In many institutions, funding for Education IT is an afterthought. Often funded out of one-time money, IT is the first to get cut and the last to have those funds restored.
There is no good excuse for this but it is understandable. Many administrators simply do not understand the powerful nature of this technology. Instead, IT is either viewed as a place where money is spent begrudgingly -- whenever there is a little left over, or it is viewed as the ultimate solution to all of our problems. Of course, Information Technology is neither. IT provides tools -- very powerful tools but tools nonetheless.
The challenge then for Education IT is to help administrators understand how IT can save them money in the long run -- while enhancing the academic success of our students. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to quantify many of the costs of running a school or a school system. Staff salaries are often considered a 'sunk cost' and laying people off in hard financial times is always the last choice. Conversely, when times are good, administrators are quick to hire additional staff rather than looking for more cost-effective ways of accomplishing more with the same staff while consuming fewer overtime hours to do it.
Then there are those items in the annual budget which are never scrutinized. Expenses which the average administrator assumes cannot be reduced. One such expense is paper and toner.
Every school of any size make extensive use of copier technology and those with any IT infrastructure whatsoever are dependent upon laser printer technology. Today these technologies are virtually indistinguishable and they represent a fixed cost to lease or purchase the equipment and a variable cost tied to the number of pages printed. These variable costs are of course, the cost of paper and the cost of toner, plus the costs of ongoing maintenance.
But what does this have to do with IT? Everything! Money spent on paper and toner (most of which ends up in the dumpster behind your school -- or the trash in your students' homes) is money not available for those educational opportunities which do not require paper and toner to transport information. A ubiquitous IT infrastructure -- not laptops or palms or other mobile devices -- are what make it possible for all of your students to have access, on demand, to whatever information they need when they are at school. So, how does one make the transition?
First, you need to determine what the numbers are in your environment. In a large Education IT setting, where your buying power is substantial, your cost per page-image is about two cents. It may be counter-intuitive but whether simplex or duplex, the cost is about the same. (This is best case -- very high volumes, self-maintained equipment, etc. -- in a setting where maintenance is leased, this cost might be as high as five cents per page.) If your printing environment relies upon ink-jet technology, such as that found on 'low-cost' printers, your equipment costs are dramatically reduced but you can pay up to 10 or even 20 cents per page to print!
Still, even at 20 cents per page, a computer workstation represents a lot of printed pages. So, how many pages does your school or district consume every year? I'll bet it is a lot higher number than your administrators would guess.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that your school produces 1,000,000 pages per year. Cut that in half and reduce your dependence on paper by 500,000 pages. At two cents per page, that represents a savings of $10,000 every year. Not enough to hire another staff person but a robust workstation costs under $1,000 these days. On a modest five-year life-cycle, you could add 50+ workstations to your Education IT environment!
It is a misconception that information technology reduces your direct costs -- it simply does not. What it does does do is permit the use of more efficient techniques for storing, accessing, and utilizing information. This allows the forward-thinking administrator and educator to explore novel ways of serving the academic needs of their students. All it takes is 'thinking outside the box'.