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5 myths about device buyback programs

Device buyback programs shouldn't be confusing or intimidating--here are some popular myths, dispelled
By Paula Currie, Vice President of Procurement, Second Life Mac
July 13th, 2021

Device buyback programs shouldn't be confusing or intimidating--here are some popular myths, dispelled

While most school district officials are aware that they can sell their digital learning device fleets at the end of their lifecycles, many don’t do it because they don’t understand the device buyback process.

This is a key finding from a recent study conducted by Project Tomorrow, best known for its annual K-12 Speak Up education research.

The survey showed that while just 7 percent of district administrators and 14 percent of technology leaders were unfamiliar with buyback services, only a little more than half said they were somewhat or very likely to participate in a buyback program over the next two years.

This is surprising because buyback programs are bound to play a more significant role in technology budgeting over the coming years. After a windfall of more than $190 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that have been earmarked for K-12 schools since last year, districts will have to figure out how to sustain their new technology programs. Selling back used devices to raise funds for the next fleet of devices will be key to this effort.

In the meantime, the study unearthed several myths and mysteries surrounding the buyback process that need to be dispelled. Here are a few:

Myth: Districts should hold onto devices as long as possible.

Fact: According to the Project Tomorrow study, only 36 percent of school districts say they refresh their devices every 3-4 years. Many keep them much longer. However, in order for sustainable budgeting to work, it’s important for districts to adopt a regular cadence for refreshing devices when they are still valuable. The ideal time to refresh devices is around year three for iPad and year four for Macs, when devices are just starting to lose their teaching and learning effectiveness, but residual value is high.

Myth: Some devices are not worth the trouble of trading in.

Fact: Surprisingly, a high number of school district officials in the survey said they don’t think their devices are valuable enough to warrant a buyback. This is rarely the case. Even very old devices may still have some residual value, although not as much as newer devices. One school in California had a bin of old and broken iPad that the district planned to recycle. Selling back those devices instead netted the school enough money to purchase 150 new iPad.

Myth: Old devices should be given to younger students in lower grades or donated to the community.

Fact: District administrators in the study said they thought used devices should be donated to needy families in the community or provisioned to other grades. Neither of these scenarios end well. Older devices that are provisioned to lower grades often cannot run updated software and learning apps, break down more often, and create digital equity issues. Donating used devices to the community often burdens IT staffers, who are called with support questions.

Myth: Total cost of ownership isn’t that important.

Fact: Only about 30 percent of district administrators and technology leaders said that total cost of ownership (TCO) was a motivating factor in choosing digital learning devices. TCO is a practice widely used in business that helps determine the direct and indirect costs of a technology purchase. In education, a TCO analysis would factor in things like the cost to support and repair devices, as well as the residual value of a fleet of digital learning devices at the end of its lifecycle. Selling used devices to a buyback company can reduce TCO by as much as one-third, so it’s surprising that more district officials don’t use this tool to make financial decisions. A good buyback company should be able to tell you what your new fleet of devices will be worth in three years, so districts can budget with more certainty.

The survey didn’t cover this last topic, but it’s one we hear a lot.

Myth: All buyback companies are the same.

Fact: While many buyback companies sound similar, it’s important to look for a company with experience and a track record of doing the right thing. Provide an honest assessment of your devices and ask the company for a bid that includes a guaranteed minimum. Discover what is and is not included in the buyback, such as on-site pick up or touchless pickup. Finally, in addition to checking out references, network with other districts to learn about their experiences.

Fiction is great, but not when it comes to trading in used learning devices. The more districts understand the importance of selling back used devices, the more sustainable digital learning programs can become.

About the Author:

Paula Currie is vice president of procurement for Second Life Mac. She is a 10-year veteran of Apple Inc., where she was a trusted expert on digital learning and 1:1 technology.