Technology Fees in 2009?

I continue to be amazed that we in higher ed continue to think of technology as something extra, something not assumed and expected, indeed something that we need to charge separately for. Maybe that made sense in 1990 (but that’s only a maybe). It doesn’t make any sense in 2008, 2009, or anytime else in the future. In fact, as each year goes by it makes less and less sense to charge something special (extra) for technology.

Typical line items on a student invoice (YMMV):
Tuition: 3 credits X $140 per credit =            $420
Technology fee: 3 cr. X $10 per credit =         $30
Total cost (except for all those other fees) = $450

I’m not proposing that we forgo revenue. Lord knows that really isn’t an option. What I am proposing is that we simplify what the cost of attending college is. Like this:

Tuition: 3 credits X $150 per credit =            $450
Total cost (except for all those other fees) = $450

I think it is embarrassing that we treat technology as something extra. It is expected that we have technology available to all campus stakeholders in various different ways. Kinda like safety, which we are also expected to provide throughout the campus in many different ways (security guards, fire alarms, non-slippery surfaces, clean air, etc.). Sort of like knowledge and intelligence, which we are expected to provide at no extra charge (that’s a joke, son). Sort of like drinking fountains and rest rooms.

How would this look for a student invoice?

Tuition: 3 credits X $100 per credit =             $300
Technology fee: 3 cr. X $10 per credit =           $30
Safety fee: 3 cr. X $10 per credit =                   $30
Intelligence fee: 3 cr. X $10 per credit =           $30
Rest room fee: 3 cr. X $10 per credit =             $30
Bullshit fee: 3 cr. X $10 per credit =                $30
Total cost (except for all those other fees) =  $450

As absurd as the invoice above may appear, it’s not that different from the invoice that we actually do give to students with numerous line items that are added onto the cost of tuition to determine the total cost of attendance (TCA). In technology we are always concerned about the total cost of ownership (TCO). Aren’t students equally concerned about their total cost of attendance? Shouldn’t we be much more transparent (and far less stupid-looking) by telling the student up front what their TCA is?

To make it worse, the technology fee doesn’t cover the cost of technology used on campus. It covers about half the cost of technology (at my school), and that’s a pretty generous (the real number is lower) estimate in that I’m not including some of the difficult costs such as basic IT infrastructure (fiber networks, etc.) So, technology fee is a misnomer. We should call it “Half of the Technology Fee,” or more accurately “Part of the Technology Fee.”

Take a look at the special invoice above with all the extra line items. Remind you of anything? Is it starting to look at all like your phone bill? Don’t you love how the phone company (and cable company and a few others) nickle and dime you to death with all their add-ons to their basic service cost? Don’t you? Do we in higher ed really want to be like the phone companies?

Name one other industry where technology is considered to be an extra, an add-on, something that you have to pay extra to get. Options on a new car are something that you decide to pay for or not. You can opt out if you don’t want to pay for that sun roof. Sun roofs aren’t expected, they are extra – but you have a choice. Do students have a choice whether they pay the technology fee? Can they opt-out if they don’t want to use any of our technology? “No thank you, I’ve brought my own!”

Grab your crystal ball. Do you think we’ll still be charging extra for technology as a line-item addition on student invoices in the year 2020? What about 2050? Maybe green space will be so rare by then that we’ll charge for blue skies, picnic tables, and green grass. Don’t laugh, we charge for technology in 2009 and that is pretty laughable.

In closing, you might be wondering where this rant came from. Actually, I’ve been on it for a few years now, but nobody else seems to really care about this issue. What brought it to mind now is a seminar session yesterday about charging specific student fees related to the costs of developing and delivering distance learning courses. You can expect a rant about that in the near future.

CC Flickr photo by Neubie

9 Responses

  1. You mean there’s no more chalkboard fee? Boy, am I out of date.

  2. We get paid for the bullshit?!

  3. Well said! Some places charge lab fees separately as well. How do you do chemistry without lab time?
    Looking forward to the rant on charging for distance learning course development as that sounds completely mad. Oops – must not start now!

  4. […] Posted December 4, 2008 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: techfee | Barry Dahl asks why we charge technology fees, arguing that a technology or online course fee makes as much sense as a restroom fee.   While his […]

  5. I’m with you, Barry. Nothing says tacked-on like a special fee. Made sense during ramp-up, build-out times, but it’s basic infrastructure now.

  6. Not all institutions have the authority to change tuition so as to adequately cover the cost of doing business. Being in a state with one of the lowest tuition rates in the country, short of receiving a few generous donations specifically for technology use, a technology fee is the only way to loosen the ropes.

    One aspect of a technology fee that I appreciate is that the money is earmarked for technology. If the fee is bundled into tuition, will you and your department continue to receive enough to cover technology costs, or will some specialty program or center pop up one year that takes 20% of the funds? In that world, how much more difficult do you think it will be to justify your expenses when you’re competing with every other request on campus for the same money?

    Some institutions would be fine in a fee-less world, but I believe that many would find themselves going to the parts room for a replacement projector bulb in spring only to find the shelves empty.

  7. David,
    I understand your position and have heard something similar many times. The technology fee that we collect at my school (at $10 per credit) only covers about 50% of the cost of technology on my campus. Therefore, we’re already at risk of losing funding on that second 50%. It hasn’t happened because our President values the uses of technology on our campus and we have been able to make integrating technology a priority college-wide. However, any of those things could change at any time (new President, etc.). Still, I think it sends a bad message to say that technology is an add-on in 2009. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Sounds like you could benefit from a Distance Learning Fee on top of the Tech Fee. ha, ha.

    Kidding aside, I agree that technology should be a funding priority in education, regardless of the collection method. If the perception created through a technology fee is that technology is not a priority, then I agree, that’s not a good message.

  9. Thanks for posting this article, Barry. It will greatly help our students understand the push for making paying for tuiton easier. As we chatted about, this is a great possibility in the present. I will keep you informed. Also, I shared the link to this note with many, so you might receive more feedback.

    Thanks, again!

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