Of all the services provided by the university IT department, the most mundane and the least cost-effective is printing. While the technology for placing ink onto paper has changed dramatically in the last 25 years, the underlying principle has changed little since the invention of movable type in 1455 A.D.
Today, the variety of mobile and desktop devices (and their corresponding technologies) capable of displaying characters and images is simply astounding. And yet, while we debate how mobile technology can be used to dramatically expand our students' opportunities to learn, our colleges and universities are drowning in waste paper and facing ever growing printing costs.
Why is this the case?
To be sure, most colleges and universities have a poor understanding of the cost or providing printing services -- let alone the impact of this cost on other services competing for limited resources. These institutions face ever increasing printing costs without truly understanding the nature of the problem.
Initially, the scope of the problem becomes apparent on the departmental level. As the institution starts holding departments accountable for their printing and duplicating expenses, departments turn first to services like Kinko's which assume the department's up-front costs which are recovered when students purchase 'course packets' (with Kinko's profits added in.) As departments become more sophisticated, they turn to the institution's web-presence and place course materials on-line.
This approach is ideal, if properly implemented. In reality though, moving course materials online without an accompanying paradigm shift translates into greater costs for the student than those previously incurred by the department -- without any gain in productivity. Lacking a paradigm shift, once course materials are available on-line, the student, often under the direction of their instructor, dutifully prints out whatever the professor or the department places online. They may print this out on a personally owned printer or they may use the institution's printers.
Enter the Education IT department...
Since the beginning of this decade, institutions operating centralized computing operations have witnessed annual double-digit increases in printing expenses. Schools with de-centralized, departmentally-operated computing organizations have seen similar increases but decentralized operations are harder to measure -- especially if budgets are not well segregated by expense classes.
Competition for limited resources
The institution's IT department must often balance the needs (and wants) of their students and faculty with the realities of limited budgets. This includes providing resources which would be helpful to faculty and students before they realize themselves the value of these resources. A perfect example is the miss-use of web-based resources as an electronic file cabinet from which students are instructed to print all of their educational materials. Soon, the IT department comes to realize that the reason their printing costs have skyrocketed is that they are now picking up the tab for the printing needs of academic departments -- without any shift in budget.
The IT department suddenly finds that unrestrained printing expenses are crowding out instructional software -- or worse, restricting the IT department's ability to replace aging hardware. For the cost of a single high-volume laser printer, IT could buy three or four student workstations. Doesn't sound like much? The cost of printers only scratches the surface...
A campus of 40,000 students could easily see a volume of 24,000,000 pages per year. For the cost of every 500,000 pages printed, the IT department could easily acquire at least ten workstations. Cut that 24,000,000 pages in half and that is 240 new workstations every year. That's nearly 750 workstations which could be added to your student computing labs over a three years workstation lifecycle.
Tomorrow, in part two, I'll present specific strategies for addressing these costs.