Monday, February 19, 2007

More on the Tech Fee...


It's been a busy last couple of weeks. Among other things, I've had the opportunity to discuss the student technology fee proposal at 7 different Open Forums that were held at each of the ASU campuses.

I'd like to thank those students who made time to attend one of the meetings or who have posted comments online - either at my blog, or at one of the two facebook sites devoted the fee, one in support and one in opposition.  Clearly the fee proposal has its student supporters and its opponents, but regardless of position, I have found the discussion interesting and helpful.  While I would have hoped for stronger turnouts at the forums -- none of the meetings had more than a dozen or so attendees -- the students who did come out drove a lively and informed discussion of the options.

The remainder of this post is meant to consider and respond to the comments we received during the meetings and electronically.

How much is the proposed fee? Who does it apply to?
The proposed fee is $100 per student per year, and would apply to students on every campus.

Why do we need a student technology fee?
Technology is an increasingly important part of higher education and keeping up with its rate of change is an expensive proposition. A student technology fee ensures that a reliable and significant source of funding will be devoted to continually enhancing this important part of the academic environment.

More than 70 percent of public universities have a mandatory student technology fee, including the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. These institutions have found that a reliable fund for investing in student technology initiatives is an important tool in remaining competitive.

How much money will it raise?
If the fee is paid by ASU’s 65,000 students, the proceeds will total about $6.2M. Minus the 15% (or $940,000) reserved for financial aid, the net proceeds to fund student computing will be about $5.2M per year.

Will the fee “yield benefit to most students, beyond what they are already receiving?(see Hector’s comment for a rebuttal)
I appreciate this student's sentiment that the existing wireless coverage is adequate for his needs and thus needs no further investment. Others expressed similar ideas about the common computing labs, saying that they already serve their needs well. If things are so good, why do we need further investment?

I'd like to say that some students agree with the idea that technology services at ASU are all they could ask for, but I'm afraid that lots of students still have needs that aren't being met.  But, even if we accept that the present day services are adequate, unfortunately, none of these services continues at the same level without consistent investment. Computers age, wireless standards evolve, bandwidth demands increase.

As the old Woody Allen joke says, technology services are like sharks. They have to constantly move forward or they die. Without consistent investment, we'd soon have a dead shark on our hands.

How will a student technology fee improve the quality of student computing?
Technology platforms are expensive, and they require consistent investment because of constant improvements in hardware and software systems. The academic platform at ASU today consists of several interconnected elements:

  • Wired and wireless networks that connect students to ASU resources and the Internet

  • Mediated classrooms

  • Blackboard and other multimedia course creation/delivery tools

  • Common computing labs and associated software access

  • Support systems including online support, help desk and emerging 1:1 support systems

  • ASU/Google Apps for Education

  • ASU iTunes University

The student technology fee will allow ASU to continue to maintain, enhance and expand the elements of this academic platform to enrich the academic experience and enhance student success.

What will the proceeds of the fee be used for?
The fee will be used to fund initiatives to improve the academic technology platform at ASU. Near term priorities include:

  • Expanding ASU’s wireless network on all four campuses, including expanding coverage within the residence halls, public areas, classrooms, and research facilities

  • Increasing the number of technology-enabled classrooms

  • Developing a system to allow students to easily access University-licensed software on student owned machines from anywhere in the world, reducing dependence on common computing labs.

  • Expanding and improving the online self-service environment to reduce the administrative burden on students.

Additional initiatives will be advanced in response to emerging technological innovations, developed in consultation with student and faculty advisory groups.

Virginia Smith asked if ASU's student technology survey was offered to all students or only downtown students? Isn't a big chunk of student input missing? Others questioned the survey's methodology. Wasn't the survey really rigged to produce support for the fee?

Dr. Sam DiGangi, Director of ASU’s alt^I, who developed and conducted the survey, responded with this: “There are actually two surveys that have been conducted relating to campus technology. The first was distributed in summer 2006 to all students who are in programs at the downtown Phoenix Campus. Another survey was distributed to EVERY currently enrolled 2006-07 ASU students (62,670). This survey included questions directly relating to the technology fee, along with other technology use and preference questions. The initial invitation was distributed via email on 10/12/2006. A reminder was sent on 10/19/2006 and again on 10/25/2006. Details on the procedure, response rates across campuses, and results can be found at:

Several students who accepted the rationale for the fee nevertheless questioned its amount. Does the fee really have to be $100? That seems like a lot of money per student.
While we recognize that $100 is a lot of money for many students, we believe that it is the right amount for the fee this year. Of the more than 70% of public universities that charge a student technology fee, the average for that fee is almost double what we’ve proposed.

Keeping the academic technology platform current is an expensive proposition, and the revenue from the student technology fee will certainly not be enough to defray all of the costs associated with creating and maintaining it. Rather, the proceeds of the student technology fee are intended to fund initiatives to advance the platform’s capabilities and allow it to keep pace with a rapidly expanding technology base.

Who will decide how the money is used?
The technology fee will be administered by the University Technology Office. The UTO will establish student advisory boards with members from each of ASU’s campuses, both graduate and undergraduate, to gather input on student needs, act as a sounding board for proposals, and to provide oversight of fee expenditures.

Since the fee increases the total cost of education, won’t a technology fee serve as a barrier to access for financially disadvantaged students?
15% of the overall fee is directed toward need-based financial aid to help offset the fee’s impact on the total cost of education.

Anthony Garone asked the tough question, "what will happen if the technology fee isn’t assessed? From the blog post, it doesn’t sound like anyone wants to talk about that."
The short answer is that, without the fee, we're back to the dead shark. With a growing demand for services and a shrinking pool of money, the net result will necessarily be a decline in services. If we don't invest in expanding the wireless network and demand for wireless bandwidth continues to grow, the result is a less reliable, less useful service. As the demand for software access grows, in the absence of investment in new strategies to expand software access, the lines get longer.

At UTO, we're committed to providing excellent service for our customers and improving those services when our customers are unhappy. Fee or no fee, we'll work hard for you. But if our resources fall, its hard to imagine that it won't have an impact on our service.

I'm sick of hearing about this. When will the issue be decided, and by whom?
The fee proposal will be voted on by the Arizona Board of Regents at their March 8-9 meeting.


Anthony Garone February 21, 2007 at 2:21 AM  

Thank you for responding to my question about what will happen if the fee is not assessed. I apologize for acting overly-emotional in my comment... it's easy to get carried away on the internet.

I agree with the justifications of the fee, and I understand that these services will be in decline without proper funding, but I still have some qualms (of course). My primary disagreement to the fee is that everyone will have to pay, whether they use the services or not. There are students in my graduate-level cohort program who live in other states and will never use ASU's wireless services, printers, or applications, but will have to pay the fee, and that's one of many reasons as to why I see this fee as circumstantially unnecessary. While living in ASU's dormitories, I never used the university printers (it was 10 cents per sheet and I had my own printer), wireless networks (I was connected via ethernet), or university applications (outside of the classroom/lab) and there will likely be other students in the same situation I was in who could be forced to pay this fee.

Would it be possible to make the fee optional and keep track of that via ASURITE? That way, if a student didn't pay the fee, she/he could not use the services for which the fee is allocated.

Mike Skowronek,  April 1, 2007 at 6:23 AM  

I haven't been monitoring the UTO specifically, but I have noticed via the state press that after the town hall discussions in February, ASU decided to launch a reduced price laptop initiative for students. I want to compliment and say that's a great idea. I am one of the few (and it is few relative to the student population) who currently use the campus Wi-fi network, and a laptop initiative would better distribute the benefit of Wi-Fi. It appears to be a win win solution. Students have more free time from having to wait in computing commons lines, the reduced laptop cost below retail can offset the added cost of a semester IT fee, the university has less IT assets needing to be purchased and depreciated (PCs), the university really doesn't have to spend much to get a reduced price - just leverage the power of volume discounts, laptop PCs actually have a reasonable resale value - unlike desktops, and finally the students will more uniformly benefit from the campus-wide Wi-Fi. I'll say again, I think the laptop initiative was a great idea.

Second, I think that the UTO should also emphasize the benefits of IT investment in new technology initiatives. People are not entirely self focused; if you explain to them the benefits of future investment I think they can rationally justify when you also explain the benefits for which they themselves have gained from past investment. In the UTO town hall meeting I attended, future technology investment was only vaguely mentioned. Here's a novel idea, introduce the exciting next generation technologies to students and explain that while they might not come to being in their time at ASU, investment is required to eventually bring them here. Nobody is excited about a fee. If you can convince people to care more about the institution than themselves, they will justify the fee, and they will gain an appreciation for past students who have paid to benefit the current ones. On that, think as the alumni association would.

I know this seems moot in light of the fact that the discussion has concluded and ABOR has already established the fee, but obviously the administration will look to increase the amount of the fee in the future. That is how policy works, baby steps. So this is something to think about in the future when you go to market fee increases in technology.