Students get ‘good deal’ from computer labs

By Jennifer McCabe

Students who are paying $40 a semester to use the computer labs on campus are actually getting a “good deal,” according to one university official.

“If a student uses the labs each semester for four years, that’s $320,” said Michael Prais, the director of Academic Computing Services (ACS). “You can’t buy the software for that, let alone the computer.”

The $40 charge covers a semester of server access, printer use and all of the different software in that specific lab. Students who do not have a computer class but want to have access to the labs for the semester will pay the $40 fee, he said.

Prais said students who don’t have a computer class and don’t want to pay for the entire semester can opt to pay a $10 fee for seven consecutive days of lab access instead.

The faculty arranges with ACS which labs they will need for their classes for the semester and ACS tries to comply with those requests.

In order to help users stay familiar with the lab set-up, ACS also tries to keep the same software and equipment in the same places all the time, he added.

“We want to be really consistent and keep things the same. It is annoying when you come back to the lab and things have changed,” Prais said.

Most of the labs are open at least 70 hours a week, but a few are open 90 hours. This is for the convenience of the students, Prais said.

The Business and Nursing schools run their labs differently from the labs in other departments. The College of Business charges an initial fee for the required computer classes and then there is no other charge. The School of Nursing only pays $40 each semester and it does not matter how many classes in computers the student has.

The labs in the residence halls are included in the students’ room and board fees, but they still have to pay the fees for any classes in the those labs.

Students who have more than one class with the same server may be eligible for a refund. The journalism and computer science classes need three classes before they will receive a refund, Prais said.

The refunds come from each individual department. The student may receive a refund if they have proof of more than one class on a specific server. They also may receive a refund if they have their own computer and software for that class with receipts and disks as proof, Prais said.

He said the fees go to the upkeep of the labs. They pay for the lab attendant, and the paper and toner for the printers are the major expenses.

If there is any money left over after that, it is used to purchase new equipment for the labs, such as new computers, printers and updated software, Prais said.

“All we ask is the students be responsible and don’t use the labs for really big projects so other students can use them, and not to use them as a copy center,” Prais said.

The labs have a very tight budget because the lab fees have not changed in a few years, he said.

“The expenses come from maintaining the labs and that is very hard on just $40 a class,” Prais said.

The labs do pay for the upgrade in the software and students also have access to the labs from their personal computers by modems.

ACS is looking into ways which will upgrade NIU’s systems including access to the Internet, so NIU students and faculty will be able to contact other universities across the country.

They also are looking into ways which will make it easier and faster for students and faculty to access the school’s computer network without a modem, Prais said.

ACS is running a survey on the service and quality of the labs. Students and faculty are encouraged to complete the forms to get their compliments and concerns to the department.

“If a student uses the labs each semester for four years, that’s $320. You can’t buy the software for that, let alone the computer.”