ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►

The cost of a sign:

How much does it cost to learn ASL?

When teaching ASL I find it is helpful if my students have a genuine appreciation for the value of what they are learning.

Have you ever thought about what a "sign" is worth?|

I realize that many students are taking classes from underpaid community education instructors, but for now let's take a look at the college environment. Have you considered how much it costs a typical student to be sitting in a college ASL class? 

I figured it out one day. 

Suppose you want to take a couple of ASL classes.  Specifically ASL 1 and ASL 2.
Those classes currently (2019) are three semester-credit-hour courses at California State University in Sacramento. (Also known as "Sac State."  So to take both classes would mean registering for six units.

As of Fall 2019 the cost of registering at Sacramento State for six units and the associated "student fees" are as follows:

Tuition Fees: $1,665.00

Plus all of these lovelies:

Associated Students Inc. Fee

Intercollegiate Athletics/Spirit Leaders

Transportation Fee

Recreational Sports Fee

University Union & Wellness center Fee

Health Facilities Fee

Instructional Related Activities Fee --

Student Health & Counseling Services Fee

Hornet Newspaper Fee

Total Additional Student Fees: $813.00

TOTAL: $2,478.00

So, to take ASL 1 and ASL 2 at Sacramento State as a regularly matriculated student pursuing a degree will cost you $2,478.00

Then add in 30  trips to and from school at 65 cents a mile (government rate may be higher now ) for 10 miles to and 10 miles from school costs around $390

Parking sticker: $178.00 (for one semester)
Paper: $1
Pen: $1
Textbook: $84

Total:  $3,132.00  (or $1,566 per 3-unit course at six-units per semester).


I've had some experience with both semester and quarter systems.  Most "semester-long courses are going to involve about 15 weeks of instruction.  A one-semester-credit-hour course will have approximately 15 contact hours of instruction .  Of that 15 hours, the first hour is invested passing out the syllabus and getting to know your students. You spend another hour on the midterm, and another on the final (if not the actual final...then the "review" for the final). So you might get 12 actual teaching hours with the students.  Of that you really only have 50 minutes because of the 10 minute period between classes. So make that a total of 10 teaching hours in a one semester-credit-hour course.  A three semester-credit-hour course will get you a bit higher ratio or percentage of classroom-contact-hour teaching time. If you stay focused you'll have around 38 or maybe 40 hours to actually teach something. that 40 hours of instruction you are also going to need to let the students do some in-class practicing.  Realistically you are going to be able to cover 300 signs per 3 credit hour class.  The larger the class, the lower the number of signs you will get around to teaching.  If you aren't teaching fingerspelling, numbers, non-manual markers, various adverbial inflections, ASL grammar, and so forth, you can teach about 20 signs per hour.  If you ARE teaching all of the goodies, having daily quizzes, throwing in a bit of history and culture, modeling the signs, providing guided practice (at the front of the class while you watch or interact), giving them small group practice time, and letting them ask whatever questions they have, ("What's a video relay service?") then you are going to get through 10 to 15 signs per hour (in a beginning level course).  And that's okay!  That's the way it should be!  Thoroughly covering 300 to 450 signs during a course is much better than doing a slipshod job of covering 600 to 900 signs.  For example, suppose you are teaching from the text "Learning American Sign Language" by Tom Humphries and Carol Padden.  That book has around 900 signs in it.  You need at least two 4-unit courses to properly teach that book.  Typically you'd break it into two semesters at 4 credit-hours per course and around 450 signs per course.

If you are teaching at a university (such as Sac State) you don't get 4 units per course -- you (currently as of this writing in Fall 2019) you only get 3 units.  So we are looking at maybe / realistically 300 signs per course.

Now let's tie that into our earlier discussion of how much it is costing these students to learn ASL.
Tuition, fees, and incidentals per course:  $1,566
Approximate number of signs learned per course:  300
Do a little math (divide $1,566 by 300) and you come to realize that the...

Cost per sign is:  $5.22

If you think the amount "$5.22" per sign is high, then you might also want to consider "opportunity cost." 

That refers to the cost of "lost" opportunities that the students could be engaging in rather than taking a college-credit ASL course. 
They could be out earning money at a job instead of sitting in an ASL class. They could have earned $12 an hour just flipping burgers, but instead they miss out on that $12 an hour (or more if they have some actual job skills) because they are taking an ASL class. Actually they miss out on more than that because you need to figure in the "opportunity cost" (not just the physical expenses) of the of travel and "homework" time in addition to the hours spent in class.

During each college class session -- students have an opportunity for to receive the product for which they (and/or their parents and/or the taxpayer) has already paid. 

Every time I wave my hands in the air to these students it is costing them a $5 bill and come change! 

And that's only if they are "A" students and learn every sign. 

Suppose a "less skilled" student only learns only 75 percent of the signs taught in class? That person ends up paying $6.96 per sign.





*  Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy
DONATE  (Thanks!)

Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)  

*  Also check out Dr. Bill's channel:

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University  
ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars