Cards, cash or free?
Another benefit of card system integration and more advanced hardware is that campuses are afforded increased pricing flexibility. “Newer, variable-price machines enable campuses to charge different rates based on the type of laundry load including higher prices for longer cycles, extra rinses or hot-water washes,” says Heartland’s Emery.
“We see a variety of pricing options at campuses with some charging one price if change is used, a different price if a credit or debit card is used, and a another price if a campus card is used,” says Emery. “Many campuses offer discounts for OneCard use or even variable pricing based on the time of day with lower pricing offered at non-peak laundry times.”
There may also be a hardware benefit to the pay-per-use structure. “Some of the advantages we see when using a card based laundry system and charging a per-use laundry fee is reduced wear and tear on the laundry machines,” Emery says. “The laundry machines do not wear out as quickly, costs are recovered for machine use and repair and also maintenance concerns are reported a lot quicker.”
Out of sight, out of mind
Another common pricing structure is a semester fee that enables residential students to use laundry facilities without paying each time they activate a machine.
“What we most often see is that the laundry fee, if not a per-use or one-time direct laundry fee, is often rolled up within other housing fees, but it is not typically free,” says Emery. “For the students the advantage of a semester fee is that it’s easy for them, and they don’t have to budget for laundry.”
“The per-semester model is perhaps the simplest option for a campus, particularly if it’s mandatory for residents and they don’t put any controls on the machines to verify eligibility,” Swingler says. “I’ve seen posted rates from $35 to $65 per semester.”
For students the advantage of a semester fee is that it’s easy for them, and they don’t have to budget for laundry.
External vendors that contract with campuses to provide and laundry facilities have some pretty simple math to figure out the cost per student, explains Swingler. Campuses that choose to operate the machines internally have to work a little harder to work out their costs.
It’s also worth noting that the per-semester fee means different things to different people. From a student perspective this can often be misconstrued as being free, making true complimentary service a bit of a misnomer.
Swingler references personal experience on the matter. “Laundry seems ‘free’ to my freshman daughter, but as a parent, I understand that free really means pre-paid because it’s built into the charge for her room,” he explains. “One advantage to this, however, is that student’s don’t complain about yet another fee, or appeal for the ability to opt out of the fee in favor of going home on the weekend to do their laundry.”