Student fee funds technological upgrades across campus, USF system

How much the student technology fee accounts for per credit hour, according to numbers from 2017-18 from the USF controller’s office. The total shown includes all fees, not just the student technology fee. Graphic by Abby Rinaldi

Since 2009, USF has charged students a technology fee; a fund that has accumulated millions of dollars over the years for system wide or campus technology projects.

The fee was established by the board of trustees in accordance with the Florida Legislature, according to the Information Technology (IT) website. Florida statute 1009.24.13 allows up to 5 percent of tuition per credit hour as the technology fee.

“The revenue from this fee shall be used to enhance instructional technology resources for students and faculty,” the statute says.

Students pay slightly more per credit hour in fees than they do in base tuition, according to 2017-18 numbers from the USF controller’s office. Graphic by Abby Rinaldi

When USF established its technology fee, it chose the maximum: 5 percent. The 2017-18 undergraduate tuition rate at the Tampa campus is $105.07 per credit hour, according to the controller’s office. This means the student technology fee is $5.25 per credit hour. A student taking 15 credit hours will pay $78.75.

The student technology fee represents a small percentage of the total amount of fees USF students pay, according to data from the 2017-18 USF controller’s office. Graphic by Abby Rinaldi

Jenny Paulsen, assistant vice president of USF IT, said the fee has been used for a variety of projects both system wide and at the individual campus level. These range from putting Wi-Fi on campus to e-books in the library.

“I think all of [the projects] have been quite impactful in one way or another,” Paulsen said.

All of the projects the student technology fee has been used for in the past are posted on the USF IT website. Some of the projects listed include printer replacement in the library, BullSync, student access to Lynda.com and apps.usf.edu. The latter project is one Paulsen thinks is particularly noteworthy.

“Rather than you as a student having to go and buy these very expensive software packages yourself, the tech fee sponsored the ability for us to provide those software packages to all students through the apps.usf.edu portal,” she said.

Students on campus need varying degrees of technology for the work they do. While some students just use the printers in the library, the members of the Whitehatters computer security club require a little more. The club gathered for a meeting in the iTeach lounge in the College of Education on Sept. 29.

Alan Gay, an embedded software engineer at LGS Innovations, taught the Whitehatters members about ways of hacking into devices. He donated a device to the club to help them take power measurements – a ChipWhisperer Lite, which costs about $300.

At the end of the meeting, the students spoke with Gay and familiarized themselves with the machine. Brad Daniels, president of the Whitehatters club, said the topics and technology the club deals with tends to be advanced, and sometimes that means they need high level technology to go about their business.

“Some students have more money and a more degree of resources, better computers … but we do have students that can’t afford those resources or it’s not as easy to get and so in those cases we try to provide computing power to those that need it and that requires money,” Daniels said, “right now, most of the computer infrastructure we have was just free donations from individuals who are just friends of the club, but there’s always things that we need. There’s always things that we need more of and so we’re kind of always on the lookout for different sources of funding or resources.”

His club gets its funding from the engineering council within Student Government, which funds the club through activity and service fees. There are many resources the club uses on campus, Daniels said, such as the 3-D printing lab and computer labs for computer science students. However, there are some changes that he would like to see.

“What I would really like to see is a computing environment for students where they could create their own virtual machines because that’s really the main thing that I find students are lacking,” he said.

He said the club has considered applying for student technology fee grant, a process he needs to coordinate with faculty advisors who are more familiar with the process. As of right now, the club has never applied for technology fee money.

USF IT allocates the funding for these projects through a series of committees. Of the money students pay for the fee, 25 percent goes to funding system-wide projects, while the remaining 75 percent goes to funding projects on that student’s campus. The divisions include the three campuses, Tampa, Sarasota-Manatee, St. Petersburg and also USF Health.

Paulsen said there is a committee established for each entity with student, faculty and staff representation. These representatives are assigned the task of getting requests from their constituents.

“We leave it up to each of them on how they want to do that,” she said.

The committees are dedicated to or piggyback on other committees. The Tampa committee was formed just for the purpose of the technology fee. The system committee is actually the IT Management Committee. Health leverages the Health Technology Governance Group for its meetings.

“Some of the committees are standing committees that have other roles as well, so they meet on a regular basis anyway, and we hijack some of their meetings for the tech fee,” she said.

Each entity operates on its own cycle. These cycles all operate throughout the year and may or may not overlap. They don’t meet in excess, Paulsen said, usually meeting once near the beginning of the cycle and then once to make decisions on projects. The goal in selecting projects, she said, is to put students first and to align with the mission of the university.

“One of the things that we do encourage is investing in emerging technologies,” she said. “… The tech fee is a source of funding that’s encouraged to be used for trying out new technologies to see whether they do add value or not and if they do we can go on and … make use of that technology in the future.”

However, there are still some resources those like Daniels and the Whitehatters members would like to see. No matter how much or how advanced the technology that students at USF are using is, Daniels said he thinks it’s a good idea to have the fee fund technology projects on campus.

“Even somebody who’s not using technology heavily, I think the cost of some of these resources should be subsidized for the students that need it,” Daniel said. “It’s like taxes. There are people who use more public resources than other but everyone still pays their fair share of taxes because we’ve decided as a society that people who need food stamps or something should be able to get them … I think it’s kind of the same for the tech fee. Even if you don’t actually use resources that are funded by the tech fee, I still think it’s fair that everyone contribute.”

There are always more requests than what can be funded, Paulsen said, but she thinks the committee has done a good job.

“I think that the great part about it is we have delivered some great solutions for students in the space of technology, so it’s really been very valuable,” she said.

While Paulsen said the technology fund brings functional and newer technologies to USF, the beneficiaries of the fund are ultimately decided by the committee.

 

CLARIFICATION:

In this story, Jenny Paulsen, assistant vice president of USF IT, said that the technology fee committee meetings sometimes hijack other committee meetings. After publication, Paulsen said she did not mean hijack in a negative sense. Instead, she meant it as “use.” The meetings of the technology fee committees do not disrupt other committees at USF.