How investing in tablets would save UH Mānoa and its students money

AmplifyIn today’s society, the ability to use technology is a necessity.  Where ever you look, you’ll see technology weaved into every aspect of the world we live in.  For a student at the University of Hawaii (UH) at Mānoa, this fact is never truer.  UH students need technology to do their homework, write quality essays, and create top-notch resumes for a career.  Everything a student does almost revolves around the utilization of technology.  Textbooks are already considered a dinosaur of the past.  A question we must ask ourselves is, “Why haven’t we gotten rid of all the paperback textbooks, and fully enveloped ourselves in the use of tablets and electronic textbooks (e-textbooks)?”

Many would argue that tablets would be an expensive alternative to paperback textbooks.  There are three main points they would argue:  the ability for a student to afford a tablet, the high costs of installing a Wi-Fi network throughout the university, and the “frivolous” costs of training teachers to use them.  In the case of an elementary, middle school, or high school, this fact is true for both the school and its students.  However, when it comes to UH Mānoa and its students, the numbers show a very different answer.

In today’s economy, being poor is a common stereotype for a university student.  With that being said, it’s not hard to understand why many people think the tablet is expensive compared to regular paperback textbooks.  The average price for a tablet is currently $381. The price fell 10.8 percent from last year and is expected to fall lower in the next few years.  If a student really wanted to buy a cheap tablet, they could get one for as low as $70.  Ask any UH student how much their books cost, and you’ll get a number much higher than what it costs to buy the cheapest tablet in the market.  In my 4-year academic career, I’ve only had to buy one book that was priced over $300.  Ask any other student if they’ve bought one for higher, and I’m sure 1 out of 10 would say yes.  Sometimes my books would cost me over $700 a semester.  The sad part about this fact is that the majority of the books I purchased were used.  According to UH Mānoa’s website, the average amount of money a UH Mānoa student spent on books during the 2012-2013 academic year was $1,212.  If you think this is ridiculous, you’re right.  If a student were to work full-time for a month as a cashier at McDonald’s, they still wouldn’t be able to make enough to cover those costs.

E-textbooks are much cheaper than paperback textbooks.  Instead of paying more than $200 for a used education software textbook, a student at Liberty University purchased a digital copy for $80.  That’s 60% cheaper than a used book.  Imagine how much it would cost for a student to rent an e-book!  According to America’s Debt Help Organization, E-textbooks can be rented at 20% of what a textbook would typically cost.  If a UH Mānoa student rented e-textbooks in the 2013-2013 academic year instead of purchasing textbooks, they would only end up paying an average of $242.  Add that to the average cost of a tablet, and the average total cost for the year would total out to $623, a savings of $589.  But wait, don’t most students sell back their textbooks at the end of every semester? Well, even if a student were to sell back their textbooks, they would still end up paying more than $368 in expenses.  After all, students don’t get half of what they originally paid for; they only receive 15-20 percent.

Building a Wi-Fi infrastructure sounds quite expensive.  When you factor in the industrial grade access points, the miles of wires, and the annual costs of maintenance required, an infrastructure that covers all of UH Mānoa can instantly turn into a million dollar project.  Luckily for students, UH Mānoa already has its infrastructure in place.  A donation by Pepsi allowed UH Mānoa to update its Wi-Fi infrastructure in 2003.  With the growth and speed of technology, UH Mānoa’s Wi-Fi infrastructure can already be considered as outdated.  According to an article done in 2012, the average cost for building a new Wi-Fi infrastructure was $5.79 per student.  With over 20 thousand students enrolled at UH Mānoa in 2013, the average cost for installing a new Wi-Fi infrastructure would be $115,834.

Training teachers and administrators how to use tablets would not be as expensive as most people think.  The average cost for training a teacher how to use a tablet would be $6.94 per student.  Assuming that a teacher needs to be re-trained every year, training expenses would annually be around $138,841.  That’s quite expensive.  However, I like to think it’s safe to assume that teachers won’t need training every year.  Training once every 2-3 years sounds much more reasonable.  If we were to space out the numbers for every three years, the cost would only be $46,280 per year.

If we were substitute textbooks with e-textbooks, the UH Mānoa bookstore would no longer exist.  It would serve as a shop for tablets, laptops, and custom school merchandise.  Being that the books account for more than a third of the shop, we’ll assume that the shop would incur two-thirds less in operating expenses.  In the Mānoa Expenditure Summary for 2008, Shop operations totaled over $3 million in expenditures.  This would mean that over $2 million is spent every year in operating costs for textbooks.

Now let’s compare the numbers!  UH Mānoa students would save money if they were to rent e-textbooks.  Instead of paying $969 in buying and selling regular paperback textbooks every year, a student would only have to pay $623 to cover the cost for a tablet and all their e-textbooks.  Although it would cost a total of $254,675 to update UH Mānoa’s Wi-Fi infrastructure and train its faculty to properly use tablets, UH Mānoa would save a lot of money in comparison to the transportation, distribution, and storage of textbooks.  The university would save over $1.5 million in which they could invest in “tablet charging stations” they could construct all across campus.  The university would not only save money but create top notch Wi-Fi servers and technology savvy teachers.

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