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Dean’s Update: Strategic Efforts to Help Contain Affordability of Higher Education

October 31, 2017

Popular media outlets have been shaping perceptions about the rising costs of higher education and even questioning the value of investing in getting a college education. Accordingly, many universities have taken an aggressive business approach to attracting customers and trying to accommodate their expectations for a college experience.

But the education industry has responsibilities core to its purpose: to better prepare people for a workforce that is evolving more and more into “knowledge industries” and to enable and share the results of research to advance society. Both objectives require access to more than just the popular press and Internet “factoids.” Ensuring access to authoritative information and scholarship is the domain of most academic libraries, and it is also a venue by which they can contribute to contain the affordability of higher education.

At Drexel, the Libraries has highlighted its focus for the next five years in a refreshed version of its Strategic Plan, now calibrated for 2017 - 2022. The four core obligations we articulated in 2012 still guide the Libraries’ transformation into a destination for becoming and being a life-long learner. These include: 

1) Ensuring ACCESS to ideas and authoritative information sources,

2) Creating and assessing LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS in physical and cyber spaces,

3) Deepening Drexel’s CONNECTIONS with scholarship, and

4) Modeling a collaborative, client-focused, data-driven and entrepreneurial ORGANIZATION. 

Now, we work to embed the Libraries more firmly in the University’s infrastructure and to effectively contribute to Drexel’s mission and ambitions.  

In the next three issues of our In Circulation newsletter, we will feature just a few of the initiatives that illustrate how we plan to reach these goals. More specifically, our new objectives that are aligned with challenges in higher education include:

1)  Contain affordability of higher education

2) Shape future scholarship

3) Inspire a life-long quest of learning

This month, we highlight the first of these bodacious challenges: containing the affordability of education.

For one, we have roughly estimated a major tenfold savings for Drexel faculty, students and staff to access the 384,096 online resources available through the Libraries’ negotiation of licenses with publishers and vendors or through collaborative efforts with other libraries.

For every dollar spent from our “collections” budget, we can provide access to needed materials at one tenth the cost to obtain a copy of a needed book or journal article through another channel, such as directly purchasing a book at a bookstore or by downloading one scholarly article online through an “on demand” system outside the Libraries licenses. We weigh the cost of subscriptions and purchases with resource sharing options to provide the most economical access to items that are in less demand. 

This shift from “building collections” to “ensuring access” is a major contribution the Libraries makes to contain the costs of education, and one that is discussed in more detail in this month’s article Moving from “Building Collections” to “Ensuring Access.”   

This year, we also expect to introduce Drexel faculty to new opportunities for lowering costs of purchasing textbooks (learn more in Drexel Libraries Promotes Open Access on Campus). We will be working with PALCI (the Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc.) to encourage participation in the “open textbook movement.” Through this approach, faculty agree to utilize already existing textbook materials that are published under open source agreements or to contribute to open source textbooks for others to share access at far lower (if not eliminated) costs to students.  Some institutions are already participating in this movement and have demonstrated collective savings in the millions of dollars for their students enrolled in core courses where there is heavy reliance on textbooks. 

Through the Libraries’ release of our strategic plan for the coming five years, we bring attention to at least three challenging objectives faced in higher education and how an innovative academic library can contribute to its university’s efforts to overcome those challenges. Next month, In Circulation will focus on how the Libraries plans to help shape future scholarship.

Reactions or suggestions for ways to help market our efforts are always welcome.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries