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 itemized bill makes a good point about subdividing and itemizing to death, I think this is a case of reality rearing its head.

Anyone in education at the moment hears the word “accountability” regularly.  One of the things it can mean is, “What is my money paying for?”  It’s long been conventional wisdom that voters are more likely to approve earmarked or directed tax increases (1/4 cent for a 911 center or a 1/2 cent for road improvements) than they are to assent to a general tax hike.  The same thing goes for college boards of regents/curators/trustees, etc.  So, students end up paying student government fees, activity fees, and technology fees. Some institutions roll those fees into general revenue.  At others, there are specific rules about what can and can’t be paid for with the money, and technology fees really do go to support technology.

As to Barry’s question, “Why aren’t computers rolled into overhead like carpet and electricity?”, there are still, at most institutions, significant subsets of the faculty and student population that avoid instructional technology.  Governing boards are also perhaps less familiar with instructional tech, tending to view it as cutting edge rather than mainstream.

At my current institution, more than 40% of students this semester took an online course, and those students were charged a separate fee.  That means that a majority of students didn’t and weren’t. Perhaps the important question is, ” What proportion of students have to make use of something in order for the cost to be absorbed into tuition?”

I think we need to make a distinction between technology fees and online course fees.  One can legitimately argue that everyone uses technology (even if it’s only the projector used in the classroom or the online system which handles grade submission).  Not everyone uses the online course tools, LMS’s, etc., at least not yet.