Printing in the Computer Rooms

By Peter Blando and Tim Leamy
Information Technology
November 2, 1999


Executive Summary

The following report provides a brief description of the current free printing policy at the campus' central computing facilities. It provides an analysis of the fiscal impact and projections of future funding needs to support printing in the computer rooms. In addition, the report identifies the primary reasons for the growth of printing and options of how to deal with this growth. For comparison, policies of other universities as well as policies of UC Davis departments are included. While this document provides options as to how the campus can address the issue of support for printing, this is not intended as a planning document. It is intended primarily to provide information on this issue.

This document focuses primarily on the printing in publicly accessible computer rooms managed by Information Technology under its Lab Management unit. The report excludes analysis of computer rooms operated by departments other than Information Technology and those that are restricted from public access.

From the data summarized in this report, the campus can expect a growing demand for printing and associated increase in support costs. The information age and the shift to more on-line accessible documents has led to students printing more every year. Furthermore, the absence of hard quotas or charges for printing has resulted in possible indiscriminate printing.

Several universities face the same problems. Their solutions for cost recovery have been varied with some charging per page and others charging a flat rate for a specific quota. Campus departments have primarily used access limits to limit the number of people who can print. Several options were presented along with specific advantages and disadvantages.

The Division of Information Technology hopes that the campus can review the information presented here and determine the most appropriate course of action.



Historically, Information Technology has supported free printing in the computer rooms. Over the past few years printing costs have increased dramatically. Since methods for detailed print accounting were established, printing has grown 212 percent. For example, the number of pages printed per quarter rose from 580,000 in Winter 1996 to 1,826,000 in Spring 1999. The graph below shows the pages printed per quarter. Charting a straight trend line projects nearly two million pages to be printed in Fall 1999.

Figure 1

The rate of change can be attributed to both an increase in the number of users and the rise of the average number of pages printed. Since Fall 1995, there has been a doubling in the number of people printing each quarter and a quadrupling of the average number of pages printed. The graph below identifies this trend over time. By Spring 99, the average pages printed remained just under 160 pages and increasing sharply in comparison to the number of people printing. This could be due to the limit in the capacity and availability of the computer rooms to serve additional users.

Figure 2


An overall increase can also be associated with the rise of people printing more than 100 pages but less than 800. The number of people printing in the upper ranges have varied significantly and showed decreases at certain quarters. The table below summarizes this information.


Table 1

Table 1 indicates that a little over 10 percent of the users print more than 400 pages each quarter. In Spring 99, the median number of pages printed was 94.

Costs of Printing

The annualized cost of supporting printing has also increased. Over the past two years, the campus has spent over $130,000 in printer related supplies and maintenance. This year, it is projected that the unit will spend another $84,000 on those same items. Adding the cost for purchasing new printers on the replacement cycle, the costs are projected to exceed $104,000 for 99-2000.

99-00 (Projected)
$ 29,396


Life-Cycle Costs*

Table 2

* Life-cycle costs considers an average cost per printer times the number of total printers divided by three, the estimated life cycle of the printer


The above costs do not include support costs incurred to maintain printers and print queues. Support costs cover computer room consultant, hardware support, and staff support time. Note that there is a substantial loss of consultation time due to the time spent dealing with printer issues.

Table 3

If all costs are included, free printing will cost the campus close to $190,000 during the 99-2000 fiscal year.

The computer rooms have a combined theoretical capacity to print 413 pages per minute, the actual rate is much lower due to the types of print jobs sent. Recent data shows an average of 32 pages per minute (25,000 pages per day) can be expected for Fall 2000.

Causes of the Growth of Printing

There are undoubtedly many reasons why printing usage has been increasing. Through surveys and observations Lab Management has identified the following:

  • Increased Use of the World Wide Web (WWW) for Delivery of Class Materials
    For many classes the World Wide Web has replaced the copy centers as the standard means for distributing class material. Consider the following two examples:
    1. In the past an instructor would place a copy of his class materials at a copy shop where students could purchase them.  Now many instructors are placing course materials on the WWW.  Students then open the course webpages in a computer room and print them out immediately. There is evidence to suggest that students still prefer to study from paper because they mark up the text and write notes in the margins.
    2. An instructor places class notes or materials on the web instead of providing copies to their students.
These examples show how duplication costs are transferred from the students or academic departments to a single organizational unit. Instructors are now reportedly instructing students to print out material at the computer rooms if they wish to have a hard copy.
  • Increase in the Number of Computer Literate Students
    As the percentage of computer literate students increases more students expect to use computers to do their coursework.  This in turn means that more and more of their own class assignments are being printed in the computer rooms. The majority of reports and class papers are still submitted to instructors in paper form.

  • No Incentive to Print Responsibly
    Resources which are free are often abused. It is difficult to encourage users to print responsibly when there is no incentive to do so. Multiple printing of the same document, using a printer as a copier, and indiscriminate printing are wasteful. Though some departments impose hard print quotas, IT has chosen not to set hard quotas for printing. At this time, only warning letters are sent via email to students who print in excess of 400 pages and again at 800 and 1200 pages.

Other Issues

  • Time and Resource Waste from Inappropriate Printing
    Many class web pages contain graphics or other multimedia items which are difficult and time consuming to print. For example, there are some PowerPoint slide shows which have be transferred to the web. In these web presentations each page translates into a 30MB print job. When a student attempts to print the series of web pages s/he can tie up a printer for hours. In many other cases trying to print multimedia data supported by plug-ins simply prints out blank pages.
  • Paper Waste
    Lab Management currently recycles an enormous amount of paper each week. Print jobs which have never picked up is all too common. Typically, this occurs when a large number of students print graphic intensive or several pages of class notes simultaneously. Print queues are sometimes held up for over one and a half hours and students simply leave. They would later return to send the same material to the printer.

Other Universities

Other universities have faced this same issue. Although there are various approaches, a vast majority of other universities charge for printing. In fact, many have been charging for printing for the past six years.

  • UC Berkeley
    Students set up their accounts every semester. When they set up the account, they can select a printing account and pay $10.00 for 200 pages of printing (plus a 50 page buffer) or they can select a free non-printing account.
  • UC Santa Cruz
    Laser printing costs $.10 per page and is only available in staffed Instructional Computing labs. Color Printing costs $1.00 per page. Printing requires a print card that is available for purchase at multiple locations on campus. No cash is accepted in the computer labs. With the exception of the vending machines, print cards are not available for purchase at the computer labs themselves.
  • Cornell
    ATS provides both laser printing at cost via Net-Print, as well as dot matrix draft printing at no charge. The laser printing costs 6 cents per page. Billing is done through the bursar.

Other UC Davis Departments

Campus departments have established their own methods for controlling printing but have not devised a method for cost recovery.

  • College of Engineering
    Has a hard print quota of 250 pages per student per quarter. Once the quota is reached, the student must submit a ream of paper (500 pages) to be able to print up to another 250 pages.
  • Other Colleges or Departments
    No established print quota or print monitoring system. Restrictions are based by limiting access on computers to specific majors. Typically, computers that are able to print within these departments only have specialized software and excludes word processors and web browsers.

Options for Cost Recovery

  • Per page charge for printing
    There would be a small charge ($0.05 - $0.15) for every page printed. This solution would encourage users to print responsibly, only what is needed.
    • Recovers some of the cost of printing.
    • Provides an incentive to reduce printing.
    • Targets users who print the most.


  • It would pose an administrative burden on the campus to charge over 10,000 students every quarter.
  • Issues such as refunds for jammed and toner streaked print jobs may cause an additional burden on front line staff.
  • Per page charge for printing after a number of free pages
    Same scenario as above, but each user would have a number (for example 250) of free pages before s/he is charged for per page.


    • Recovers some of the cost of printing.
    • Provides an incentive to reduce printing.
    • Targets users who print the most.
    • May avoid the issue of refunds by emphasizing the "gift" of number of free print pages


    • Some administrative burden as above, but it would be reduced because of number of users charged.
    • Does not recover all costs.
    • May encourage the "sale" of free print quotas.
  • Print quotas
    A quota would be set. Printing would be disabled for a user after s/he prints the quota of pages.
  • Provides some incentive to reduce printing, but only to print less than the quota.


    • Users who print over the page limit would not be able to print at all. Extremely unpopular.
    • Might encourage user to print up to the quota amount whether or not s/he needs to. Other abuses, such as sharing id’s to share individual quota limitations.

  • A Student Fee to Support Printing
    Students could be charged a fee each quarter to support printing. This money would go to support the printers in the computer rooms.


    • Recovers some of the cost of printing.
    • No incentive to reduce printing. In fact, this might even provide incentive to increase printing. "I paid for printing so I’m going to get my money’s worth."
    • Mandated student fees would need to pass a long process of administrative and political steps to establish.

  • Recharge home departments for printing
    Information about the student’s home department could be obtained via the student information system. The department is then charged for the amount printed by students that are designated under their department. This solution is similar to USC’s solution for cost recovery of central computing access.


    • Recovers the cost of printing.
    • Shifts the burden from students to departments.
    • Encourages departments to educate instructors on paper saving web page designs.
    • Allows departments to return to traditional methods for distributing class materials.
    • Resistance from department heads on the shift of responsibility.
    • Does not encourage students to reduce printing.
    • May discourage faculty from using technology such as the web.
    • Requires the identification of a single home department for undeclared (exploratory) majors.

  • Stop print support
    The campus could decide to remove the printers from the centralized computer rooms and stop supporting printing altogether.


    • Removes all the cost of printing.
    • May encourage students to request departments to have departmental print stations.
    • Dramatic change in service will be unpopular among students and faculty teaching in computer rooms.
    • Discriminates against students with no access to computers who need to print documents to study at home.


Last reviewed: Thu, 22-Apr-2004
Last updated: Mon, 24-Apr-2000