Dishing out $200 or more for specialized software used for only one or two semesters or trying to mesh a class and work schedule with computer lab hours used to be the only ways to access certain software needed for many courses at the University of Central Florida.

But beginning this spring semester, students can simply visit a website and download a free app to get access to a host of programs from SPSS, a predictive analytic tool used in statistics courses to 3D Studio Max used in architecture classes. There’s even access to Microsoft Office.

UCF Apps gives students access to 14 different software programs (and counting) from any device anywhere – as long as there is an Internet connection.

“That means in your dorm room, at a regional campus, at a coffee shop or in India, as long as there’s an internet connection you can access the software,” said JP Peters, IT and communications director for the College of Sciences who led the university-wide project. “You can be on a tablet, a $200 laptop or a $2,000 Mac. They can all get you there. We’ve worked really hard to make sure the infrastructure is in place so students have a good experience.”

The idea surfaced about a year ago during a regular meeting of IT directors at the university. The group was talking about common challenges and potential solutions. The group was also looking for cost saving and sharing best practices.

Peters and Craig Froehlich director of Information Technology for  Student Development and Enrollment Services’ Information Technology visited other universities where the app approach had been tried with varying success. Their concern was making sure UCF could manage it given the number of students at the university – more than 60,000.

After several months of research and outreach, four colleges at the university agreed to give it a try. UCF had a soft launch in November to work out any kinks. Twelve software programs were available, mostly used by students in the College of Sciences, College of Business Administration, Rosen College of Hospitality Management and The Burnett Honors College.

Within weeks, the team knew it had succeeded. More colleges came onboard and Peters expects to add more specialized software for students in other disciplines, including those in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Arts and Humanities during the next few months.

“The biggest thing is that it’s going to open up freedom for students to work when and where they want,” Froehlich said.

And for parents and students who often end up paying for expensive software that’s only used for one or two semester, the savings could be significant.

The only problem now is that students don’t have any excuse to not learn SPSS – that darn statistical software program.

To watch a video about UCF Apps and to sign up, click here: