University officials announced a plan that could result in the elimination of the mobile computing program as early as next year
Three senior officials from Seton Hall University presented their case for the elimination of Seton Hall’s mobile computing program and took questions from Senators at Monday night’s Student Government Association meeting. The presentation came two weeks after SGA President Rishi Shah announced that the University was considering a phaseout of the program as soon as next year.
The decades-old initiative began in 1998 and guarantees every fulltime student a laptop. Fulltime students must opt in to the program and pay $275 a semester for the device, which includes not just the price of the physical laptop but also the insurance and support that comes with it. Students are also guaranteed a “refresh” at the start of their junior year, meaning that they receive a new laptop which they will then keep when they graduate. In total, the program costs individual students $2,200 over four years. Right now, there are about 6,000 Seton Hall laptops in the hands of students according to Associate University Chief Information Officer Paul Fisher.
According to Seton Hall’s website, the mobile computing program helps standardize the computers used by faculty and students and “contributes to a consistency of experience when utilizing technology both in and out of the classroom.” The website also notes that the program allows the University to take advantage of lower computer pricing because they purchase such a significant number of laptops per year. Also highlighted are perks such as an ensured shared experience for students and streamlined support.
But administrators struck a different chord Monday night, emphasizing a different theme: choice.
According to University Chief Financial Officer Stephen Graham, students have increasingly been asking for more choice in terms of the devices they can use. Currently, Seton Hall only offers two versions of the Lenovo ThinkPad for incoming students and allows for certain majors within the College of Communication and the Arts to obtain a MacBook Air.
According to Graham, the University explored a program which would allow students to either opt-in to the mobile computing program or bring their own device from home but found it would ultimately raise the overall cost of the program for students who opted in.
The most recently proposed plan would instead eliminate the program for all students, removing the $275 mobile computing fee entirely for all students. The $400 technology fee, which is used to maintain other aspects of Seton Hall’s information technology apparatus such as computer labs, printers and Wi-Fi, would remain.
To replace the mobile computing program, Seton Hall is currently exploring a partnership with Follett, a private Illinois-based educational supply company. In its current iteration, the plan to phase out the laptop program would mean that students can either bring their own device from home that they already owned, or they could purchase various tiers of laptops from Follett at educational pricing, with the options of a payment plan, an extended warranty, insurance, a loaner program and a repair facility on-site – though the specific logistics of all of this have not yet been finalized.
Additionally, current freshmen and sophomores would be allowed to opt-out of the program when they become juniors and keep their current university-issued laptops, thereby eliminating the $275 mobile computing fee for the semesters afterward, or continue through the program, receive their refresh and keep the $275 fee.
Through the current plan, Graham speculated that after finishing out the current mobile program, Seton Hall would have a net cash flow of $1.3 million. He claims that would then be reinvested into other aspects of the University.
According to a Setonian analysis of the Department of Information Technology’s budget and Seton Hall’s IRS 990 form for the fiscal year 2018, the Department of Information Technology costed the University roughly $22.4 million, or about 5% of Seton Hall’s total operating expenses, which was listed as roughly $440 million. The Mobile Computing Program’s budget, which was part of the Department of Information Technology’s $22.4 million budget, clocked in at roughly $7 million that year, or about 1.5% of the University’s total operational expenses.
Wake Forest, a private university located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina migrated from a system similar to Seton Hall’s roughly three years ago, eliminating a mandated computer program in which Lenovo ThinkPads were handed out to all students in favor of a program with Follett, now known to Wake Forest students as WakeWare.
According to an article published in Sept. 2016 in Wake Forest’s student paper, Old Gold and Black, like Seton Hall student choice was a large factor in the University’s decision.
Some students struggled with the program, noting that though the laptops were discounted, having the laptops issued by the not-for-profit university was something of a financial relief.
In order to combat the problem of imposing a new financial burden on students, Graham told the SGA that the University would simply raise its cost of attendance on paper to incorporate the price of a laptop, allowing students to take out a larger loan to pay for it while actually reducing the net-price students would pay to Seton Hall for the mobile computing fee.
Some students at Seton Hall have voiced reservations about the plan to eliminate the program, though.
Senior visual and sound media major Samantha Innamorato voiced her displeasure about the proposed changes saying she worries about what might happen to students without the financial means to purchase a laptop independently. Innamorato noted that the current system seems beneficial to her because the price is already wrapped into students’ bursar bills.
“Technology is so important for school and work today,” Innamorato said, “it is unfair of Seton Hall to cut this program and in effect leave behind an entire group of students.”
Additionally, Innamorato railed against the University and the Student Government Association for what she sees as a lack of transparency throughout the whole process.
“I only heard about it because my friend read it in The Setonian,” she said. “According to my friend, SGA used to be much more transparent about these types of things and would post minutes, but haven’t in a while. They really should be asking the student body’s opinion before making decisions that affect all of us.”
At Monday night’s presentation, SGA senators asked questions regarding the new proposed program, and some heaped-on praise.
Senator Santiago Cabrera, called the plan “very well done.”
“It covers all the bases,” he said. “I can’t speak on behalf of the entire Student Government, but I think it’s very well done.”
Stefan Ferreira, an SGA at-large senator, also lauded the changes, calling them a “no-brainer.”
Said Ferreira, “It’s great to know our school is cutting unnecessary student costs and is modernizing its approach to technology.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @NickKerr99.
Correction: Feb. 14, 2020
An earlier version of this article misstated the last name and title for Paul Fisher, Associate Chief Information Officer. The article previously stated his last name as Fischer and referred to him as the Chief Information Officer.