Monday, February 27, 2012

Paper Cuts

Nobody can deny that the cost of college is rising briskly and UMass Boston is actively doing its part to save money to prevent the need to further increase fees for students. One of the ways the administration is trying to cut back on spending is by encouraging the faculty to cut down on the amount of paper and computer ink they use to print out class materials. While we students applaud the administration’s efforts to make the campus sustainable, the opportunity cost of said efforts is being felt by the students in the place it hurts the most, their own pocket.

In order to cut down on paper consumption, instructors have passed the burden along to their students, mandating that they print out class materials themselves, via Portable Document Files (PDF), a popular layout because it allows a document to be managed and printed from any computer using any word-processing program. The sheer size of these PDFs can be staggering, ranging from a page to as much as fifty plus pages. ” I've had to print out nine different pieces for one class, within three sessions,” says Sylvia Peters, a senior and an English major. “At least one I did not do in its entirety because there was no way I was printing out forty plus pages of an item that was 75% ‘suggested’ reading.”

With several instructors assigning multiple PDFs to print out on a weekly basis, the cost of the materials needed to print out these documents add up quickly. For example, suppose a student has to print out sixty pages of PDFs per week. There are sixteen weeks in a semester and around eight semesters required to attain a Bachelor’s degree. One ream of paper is 500 pages, the average cost being $10 a ream. Sixty pages multiplied by sixteen weeks equals 960 pages per semester, roughly two reams of paper. Multiplied by eight semesters, it totals $160. That may not seem like a lot of money but a student will have gone through sixteen reams a paper, equaling 8000 pages in four years.

The price of ink is considerably higher, figured roughly about one black ink cartridge per ream of paper. A Canon 210 cartridge (what I use) averages around $16. Two cartridges per semester equals $32, sixteen cartridges in four years is $256. “I know I, for one, am not printing out any more superfluous documents unless they are from a website rather than a file, and even then, they need to be no more than ten pages. If the school thinks paper (and ink) is expensive for them, they have no idea the retail cost to students who don't have the luxury of corporate, state, federal, or bulk discounts.”

Together, the faculty and students should explore new ways to share information without increasing the financial burden of the student or the school. One way for a student to save paper is by printing on both sides of the paper or by recycling old papers by printing on the blank side; just be sure to cross out what is on the other side of the paper to avoid confusion. A good tactic for the administration and faculty to save paper is by actively promoting the use of electronic media for perusing documents. “Instructors need to learn how to effectively use campus equipment. Said documents can be projected onto the white screens from the professor's computer. If you're not that savvy, there are still good old fashioned overhead projectors floating around the college.” Unfortunately some instructors frown upon computers in class, preferring to assign hardcopy assignments in order to make sure students are giving their attention to the material being presented rather than surfing the net during lectures. However, students who use their laptops in class for note taking and viewing documents often outnumber those who are slacking off.  Ms. Peters agrees: “I think teachers who expect students to use PDFs and online text should then not ban computers and e-readers in class. If students want to goof off, they don't need technology to do it.”

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