It’s Trendy- So Just Pay for It



By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

 I try not to rant. However, I saw some terms of service a few days ago that made me angry. I was reviewing program that another school is running. Within the bullet points was this one:




Tuition, for this program, is one price. I cannot elaborate more because I do not have permission to re-advertise this program, and I need to keep it anonymous. The program is not in question, nor the price. The issue is that a school will pay a fee per student and that fee will cover 40 to 60 hours. Let’s look at what that means.


40 or 60 Hours
Curriculum Hours Hours Per Week Number of Weeks to Complete
40 2.66 15
45 2.66 16.875
50 2.66 18.75
55 2.66 20.625
60 2.66 22.5

Based on this chart, if a student can participate for 2.66 hours per week (2, 80 Minute Sections) , they will need 15 weeks to complete a 40 hour course. A school year is usually 36 weeks long. Therefore they will need about 50% of the school year to complete the program. If they are in a 60 hour program, they will need 75% of the school year to complete the course.

So what is the school paying for? A 40 hour course or a 60 hours course? The tuition is the same, and there is only a minimum guarantee on the hours. Planning for a 40 hour course and 60 hour course would be very different, and therefore, the price should be different. The outcomes will be different.

Obviously, the company is charging for 60 hours. If they were to only meet 50 of those hours, students would lose almost a month of instruction.

So why would anyone consider this contract without heavily amending the terms and conditions? Because the program is trendy.

The school wants to advertise they are running a trendy program- parents will respond positively. Administrators or teachers with KPIs around innovation will go with a trend because it does not need to be explained. Also, trending programs usually have resources and personnel readily available. These programs are easy to start, and, schools are paying for convenience.

I get the logic for going with a trendy program. I do not get the logic for being ripped-off.

There is always an opportunity cost when money is appropriated. Investing in a program should mean investing in a sustainable program. This program would not pass a basic audit. It is a bad deal, and probably a bad value if the plan can fluctuate in providing an opportunity for 50% or 75% of the year. This is not something students can do independently. They are tethered to the program, and this program does not scale easily.

As it scales it gets increasingly more expensive; the value remains uncertain; and the outcomes are difficult to measure. The worst part is, if someone questions the deal, and it falls apart after the contract expires, the next similar program will probably be denied based-on the previous experience. That again, is opportunity cost.

Just because and expert walks into a school, does not mean common sense should walk out. Good third-party programs are not cheap, but they do not have to be economically unbalanced and unaccountable.

Office 365 Hurting the Bottom Line and Inferior to Google Apps

I have finally completed setting-up Office 365 for my school in China. I should say me and a team of people, because that is what it took- a team and constant support. This is going to be a bit of a rant, so before that happens, I want to address the costs of Office 365.

So there is no confusion with what is true and what is not, this is the pricing FROM MICROSOFT.

There are two plans most schools choose, A2 or A3. Many schools do a combination because A2 is free. There is no argument there it is 100% free. Many schools put students on A2. Why? It DOES NOT INCLUDE MS OFFICE. This means students have to buy MS Office. The teachers and staff will go to A3 to cover MS Office licensing, support, and data backups.

“Wait! This is in the cloud you don’t need MS Office!”, says your hidden voice of reason. Well, that is not true. In order to use many many features of Office 365 you need MS Office. In fact a school using Office 365 for any business applications, working with data, etc., has to have MS Office. The worst part is 90% of the people will simply use MS Office, and the community will be back to desktop applications and emails with 10 attachments instead of leveraging the power of cloud-based collaboration.

Anyone doing cloud based applications will tell you that you cannot straddle the fence. Working in the cloud is a different way of working. Yes you lose awesome features like Word Art, but you gain collaboration, speed, efficiency, and redundancy across the board.

If you look at the cost per year of Office 365 for 100 teachers, it is about $6240 USD. Or $18720 USD over three years. This is not a system you can easily move off once you are rolling, so once you are in, you are in for 3-5 years.

In addition to paying a license fee, the single-sign-on features and other security processes you need to really make the system user friendly require the setup of three separate servers. This is also a cost that most schools do not realize is part of the full plan. Depending on the schools local infrastructure this cost could be very high or very manageable.  Either way, it is money going out the door to a service.

The cost cannot be view in terms of money alone. The time needed to set this all up and the expertise to make it a seamless user experience is substantial compared to other services. While setting-up Office 365, we lost an IT engineer for 2-3 weeks.

The Local Microsoft Corporate Office in China was actually very good with direct support. There are no complaints there, the human support is real and not a recording. However, the documentation provided by Microsoft Corp. was horrible, I should say, is horrible. The instructions do not match the current Office 365 layout so we are constantly having to map through all the menus to find the terms mentioned in the support documents.

The language settings in Office 365 do not hold. They constantly revert back to the regional default. Most “Apps” in Office 365 create an error page each time a setting is applied. I have a text document with links in it. This allows me to navigate Office 365 without using the navigation. I paste in where I want to go. I have to do this because the pages constantly fail to load when in administration mode.

As a content management system is shockingly deficient and slow, even compared to open-source systems like Drupal. I actually use Drupal to help make the Office 365 experience less painful for the users.

I could go on, but I will stop the rant. I have to use Office 365 because where I am, it is the best and most affordable option for my organization. My biggest disappointment was realizing Sharepoint is still basically just as awkward and hard to work with as it was many years ago. I was looking forward to some improvements that would significantly reduce the steps required to create anything meaningful. My hopes and dreams were crushed.

The Point

Google Apps is better. I have setup both, and gone through the frustrations of both environments in the last year. I used Drupal with both as well. Drupal and Google allow powerful integration, especially because the Google Apps data from Spreadsheets can be used to create dynamic pages in Drupal.

Not only is it better in terms of power and functionality, it is significantly less of an investment in money and time. I was able to setup Google Apps alone, and then have normal people help me populate it. The human resource investment has to be considered with any project, because every time there is a major change or shift, that amount of resources will probably be needed again. Oh yeah I forgot, Google Apps is free as long as you qualify as a school. I always recommend buying 2-3 business accounts and upgrading storage on a few accounts, but the annual cost is so low it does not even more the numbers on the balance sheet.

Schools that are privately funded and in a location where they qualify for Google Apps, should not consider Office 365 unless there is a strong underlying dependency on data driven applications powered by Microsoft products. If you do not know what I just said, then you probably are not using these applications. They would be customized and powering the business processes. This does not mean you like Word and Word Art and really feel it is integral to learning.

An Office 365 subscription maybe financially beneficial to a school that has no investment at all in MS Office or MS Exchange, but to be honest, subsidizing individuals to own their own copy of MS Office is probably the cheapest way to go, if the average contract is 3-5 years. However, the setup of an Office 365 subscription in a Microsoft free environment would be easy and provide tools that may have been missing.

I am not sure who, if anyone, reads my blog, but I hope some parents do. It would be nice for parents to inquire about school fees on the basis of the cost of certain products. It is incredibly expensive for schools to invest in products from companies like Adobe where there are not many, if any, alternatives. So savings money on groupware and communication tools should be a priority. Buying technology to meet a need or standards should trump buying because of brand loyalty or because the technology department does not know how to use anything else.

Think about it like this. Office 365 for 3 years for 100 teachers is $18720 USD. Or…

  • 50 Lego Robotics Kits with spare parts
  • 600 Raspberry Pi Kits
  • 120 TI Calculators
  • 6 MakerBot Replicator 3D Printers
  • 60 iPad Minis
  • 30 MS Surface 2 Tablets
  • And….

I could keep going, but I will end here.  If you are someone who is paying tuition, please start asking the good questions and doing the research. Counter-points are welcome.

Tony DePrato