OK, first, the "survey" all your press morons are quoting had A SAMPLE SIZE OF ONLY 300 PEOPLE IN A SINGLE GEOGRAPHIC AREA!!!
Yes, kids may be "looking" to spend a bit less, but why not actually go to a few university web sites and see what the comments from the IT staff are, and what the University MINIMUM requirements are for on-campus notebooks, and what the reccomended systems are.
Clemson is not exactly a "tech school" so I think they're a good representation of what a student going to a major university can expect:
Note 1st that the Dells recomended come with a pre-configured image for the campus network, and any other machines purchased have to be configured by tech support to access the campus systems... PRO versions of Vista or Mac OS X are required as all systems must be connected to a domain for security, and the home versions don't support that. That immediately eliminates the possibility of using a netbook. They even state in clear text: "'Netbooks' are not a viable option as your primary laptop."
Next, the selection. The White Macbook is actually the CHEAPEST system Clemson reccomends, being $949 and coming with a free iPod touch and free printer. Both Dell systems have a base price over $1049 and come with just a base software pack.
The BEST machine for a new student: a Macbook Pro 15" with windows Vista Business virtualized (which btw, CCIT staff will set up for you and is a fully supported configuration). Oh yea, you can use your FINANCIAL AID to buy one, so it;s not like you;re paying for a $2000 rig out of pocket...
Check the other major universities, and even some of the smaller ones. They all reccomend a basic performance machine, pro OS, efficient battery, and the specs of that machine are notedly higher than what people might expect. Why? Likely next year they'll all be required to use Windows 7, and the university is NOT going to reccomend machines that won't run it, and office 2010 too, plus all their security software (either required or PREINSTALLED), and they expect that machine to maintain the university software requirements for 4 years, with little more than RAM upgrades...