Since its inception 19 years ago, Winona State University’s e-Warrior Digital Life and Learning Program has become a key part of the university’s educational vision, earning Winona State the moniker of “Laptop University.”
Each full-time student at Winona State is automatically enrolled in the program and given the choice between a Mac or PC laptop computer. Since 2014, students have also been issued an Apple or Android tablet device. Students are issued new laptops and tablets every two years they remain at the university.
According to current tuition rates, each full-time student pays $485 dollars per semester to participate in the laptop program as well as a “technology fee” of approximately $100 dollars. Given these kinds of costs, some students argue they could buy a laptop for the cost of a single semester in the program. Director of User Services Robin Honken explained that it’s difficult to get students to see the full value of what they pay.
“I think things that maybe are taken for granted here wouldn’t be had you had a different experience.” Honken said her daughter attends a college where they don’t have a laptop program. When her daughter spilled on her laptop, she had to go without a computer for a period of time. In this regard, Honken said students at Winona State are lucky because they can get their laptop replaced immediately.
Kenneth Janz, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Information Officer at Winona State, oversees the program. Janz said it’s difficult to see why the program costs so much each semester if you only think about the program in terms of tangible items.
“There’s a lot of hidden costs that people don’t see but are there,” Janz said.
According to Winona State University’s 2013 Digital Life and Learning Board Report 65 percent of the program’s cost goes to hardware, which includes the laptops and tablets students receive every two years. 15 percent goes to paying the full-time professional staff and students who work in technical support and 10 percent goes towards maintenance of the machines, which includes warranties, repair, spare laptops, and other components. 5 percent goes towards purchasing software applications such as the Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud Suites, and 5 percent goes towards other miscellaneous costs of the program like the laptop buyout program for seniors, training or administration.
In addition, Janz explained the “technology fee” covers the cost of printing, printers on campus, wireless access points and certain software not covered by the e-Warrior fee.
Janz explained one of his department’s biggest costs is managing the sheer amount of internet traffic from every device on campus. Janz elaborated with a recent example.
“None of the other CIOs in MnSCU have the problems we have. There was a day last week where we had 15,000 leased IP addresses on campus.” Janz explained that each device whether it’s a cellphone, tablet or computer has its own unique IP address.
“Not all of the students are here at the same time taking classes, which gives you an idea of how many devices each student carries. We have way more devices than people actually on the network and we have to manage all of that.”
The fees students pay each semester go into paying for all that bandwidth and the hardware to manage it.
Despite the advantages it provides, some students would like to see changes in the program, particularly in the ability to choose different price points.
Jason Carpenter, a senior at Winona State, said more options for him would be beneficial.
“I’d love it if students could get reduced fees if they didn’t take tablets or additional electronics. Since I didn’t take one, I’m not a liability for the university leasing them out.
Nathaniel Nelson, a junior, said he prefers to use his own devices, even though he’s still required to participate in the program.
“The MacBook Airs and the PCs themselves, they’re not exactly up to snuff with most industry standards,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he built his own computer to ensure he has the most powerful hardware.
“I’m paying the fee but I just don’t use it as much,” Nelson said.
Since his personal computer can’t have university software on it, he also subscribes to the software he needs separately as well. Nelson said he’d like to see more options within the program.
“You can’t just have one laptop for every individual…everybody’s different…I’d rather see more choices.”
Like Carpenter, Nelson also said he’d be interested in seeing more variations in price. Despite his criticism of the program, Nelson commented on the value of the program as a whole saying each student having a computer is a good thing.
“When you have standardized hardware, it makes it easier to teach,” Janz said. Janz also acknowledged that not every major’s needs are met by the program. Janz said the Graphic Design department in particular is one major they’re working with faculty to improve, as they require devices with more computing power than many other majors.
Janz said his department brought up the idea of a “Bring Your Own Device” option for the program in 2013 based on student surveys, but it didn’t gain any traction. This would mean students would purchase their own devices and the cost of the program would drop to $200 or $300 dollars a semester. Janz said many students questioned why they would still have to pay that much if they brought their own devices. Janz cited the costs for bandwidth, campus technology like access points, projectors and printers. Janz said they will most likely float the idea to the board of trustees again in the year 2019 when their current leasing contract expires and the program must be renewed. Janz said they will keep proposing it in the hopes of offering more options for students.
“We’re constantly trying to find the middle ground to make the program as useful and as valuable to the students as possible,” Janz said.
*For more detailed info on the e-Warrior Program check out the most recent program assessment.*