GW may keep free newspaper program

The University is still deciding whether to eliminate a program that provides students with free copies of three major newspapers in residence halls, said one GW official who stated last month that the program would be cut.

The Hatchet reported April 26 that Johnnie Osborne, associate vice president and chief financial officer of Student and Academic Support Services, wrote in an e-mail that the Collegiate Readership Program would be eliminated amid budget cuts for next year.

But Osborne said last week that he did not recall writing the e-mail and that SASS officials, who oversee the program, “haven’t made a decision yet.” He added that officials are looking at a “number of programs” that could be reduced or eliminated, including the $90,000-per-year readership program, which provides free copies of The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today in residence halls.

Either way, SASS will have to trim $640,000 from its budget after the University’s Board of Trustees Friday approved a $4.6 million overall cut for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The cuts, which will trim GW’s operating budget by roughly one and a half percent to $279 million, will allow officials to allocate more funding toward faculty salaries and library, graduate and University Writing programs.

Among the departments that SASS operates are the admissions office, athletic department, Community Living and Learning Center, Student Activities Center and University Police.

After a $6 million University-wide budget cut last year, SASS eliminated an off-campus housing Web site, cut back on spending for Colonial Inauguration and considered axing the newspaper program to deal with $500,000 in budget cuts and an increase in 4-RIDE funding. UPD officials told The Hatchet last month that they will not seek more funding for the escort service because of the budget cuts.

Osborne would not discuss other programs that may see budget cuts or be eliminated for next year, saying “it’d be premature and not necessary until a final decision is made.”

“We evaluate and reevaluate (programs) each year, to see if we can make them more efficient,” he said.

Osborne said SASS is considering eliminating the newspaper program to stave off budget cuts for other initiatives given that only 20 percent of students pick up free copies of the papers each day.

But officials at The Times and USA Today urged GW not to cut the newspaper program, adding that they could reduce the cost of providing free newspapers by distributing fewer copies per day or decreasing the number of locations where students can pick up papers.

“There’s all different ways you can scale a program back,” said Kevin Cappallo, who runs The Times’ collegiate program.

Beth Burke, a senior account manager at USA Today, also expressed a willingness to find ways to keep GW’s newspaper program.

“We’re able to talk about funding concerns and … come up with continuation,” she said.

Cappallo said more than 200 universities contract with The Times to operate newspaper programs similar to GW’s and that almost all schools have continued to provide free newspapers despite a tight economy. While the recent downturn in financial markets has forced several colleges to reduce funding for the program, student governments have partially funded the programs, he said.

“The reality is,” Cappallo said, “these types of programs have grown dramatically in recent years.”

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