Last Friday, the Collegiate Readership Program was defunded through a measure on the Student Government election ballot. While recent budget developments certainly require many areas of campus to reconsider how money is spent, eliminating the funding for such a wide-ranging educational tool is not the best way to forward Truman State University’s mission.
The Collegiate Readership Program provides regional and national daily newspapers to campus for free. Every morning The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA Today and The New York Times were delivered to every academic building on campus, making them one of the few places in town to even get the physical copy and the only place for students to get the subscription for free.
While some students might not care about a newspaper subscription, many rely on them to stay informed or to use as educational aids. In studying communication and journalism, students learn about different writing styles, including the difference between digital media writing and print writing. While a digital subscription to these papers would be convenient, it doesn’t outweigh the many important teaching opportunities the physical papers provide.
In addition to a modified writing style, the physical newspapers provide an educational design element that is simply missing from the digital medium. With an entire course in the communication department dedicated to newspaper layout and design, it’s clearly an important part of journalism studies. We use the professional papers at The Index, too. Whether it be for design inspiration, analyzing photography and writing styles or using national stories to localize our own coverage, the physical papers are an important part of our process. As a learning lab, it’s important that we have materials to study and critique. Without physical papers, a large part of our material to analyze and emulate has been eliminated.
The most disturbing part of this decision is that there isn’t a solid plan for providing these news sources to students on campus now that the program has been defunded. The Organizational Activities Fee Review Committee — formed by students selected by Student Government, the Funds Allotment Council and the Student Activities Board — audits and reviews the areas paid for by the Student Activities Fee, which would include the Collegiate Readership Program. According to the committee’s report, the program was operating on a surplus created before the 2013-14 school year. To curb the surplus, the Collegiate Readership Program’s portion of the Student Activities Fee was reallocated to SAB, FAC and Student Government over the past several years. Since the fall semester, only $1.50 of the $45 Student Activities Fee has been allocated to the newspaper subscriptions. As a result, the program has just enough funds to pay for one month of the subscription.
Emily Donohue, chairperson of the Organizational Activities Fee Review Committee, stated in an email to The Index that the committee decided to not pursue an online-based subscription this spring semester because it was under a tight schedule, which was made tighter by the COVID-19 pandemic. Donohue said the committee didn’t feel comfortable establishing an online subscription without more time to review options and judge the opinion of the student population.
So, I question why the program was defunded this semester if there isn’t a solid plan in place to ensure an online subscription by the time students might return in the fall.
What research efforts have been made into the subject are also troublesome. According to the same report, research has gone into obtaining a digital subscription to The New York Times based on a student population of 5,605. The result would cost $15,114 every year, which scales down to $2.67 for each student each year. This is almost double what students currently pay for the Collegiate Readership Program and they would be getting two less subscriptions than what they previously were.
While I understand the need to shuffle funding around to ensure students are getting the most value for their money, slashing the budget and defunding a widely accessible educational program is not the way to do it. In addition to losing a form of access to current affairs, Truman is also losing an educational tool for many in the communication department and those interested in journalism media. A transition to a single digital news subscription is also not in the best financial interest of students. To best serve the University’s mission for all students, the Truman community should reconsider this decision.