After years of operation, the University discontinued the GW Reads program, which provides free copies of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today in residence halls. While the student knee-jerk reaction to this decision may be negative, this decision provides the opportunity to better allocate University funds to enrich students.
The unusually high level of student services at GW compared to some other universities means that cuts in everyday conveniences can be especially harsh on students. Case in point, some undergrads lamented the closing of the District Market grocery shop, while two cheaper and better-stocked grocery stores exist blocks away from campus. While certain services indeed make life easier, it is important for students to look beyond creature comforts when cuts might benefit the University in general.
The bottom line in this case is that the GW Reads program, which drained more than $50,000 from the University’s budget last fiscal year, provided a service that students could access for free through the Internet. The abundance of online media outlets means that students are able to access much of the same content that was available from the in-hall papers. Additionally, GW provides all students with access to a number of online databases where students can access back issues of hundreds of publications.
The decision to cut the newspaper program is financially sound, especially when put in the context of the availability of online publications. The savings, however, should not disappear into GW’s coffers. One of the aims of the newspaper program was to produce a student body that is well-versed in current affairs. In removing GW Reads, administrators should implement an alternate, albeit cheaper, program with a similar goal.
The newspapers provided an otherwise free service at a relatively high cost, and that money could be better utilized in other ways to benefit students. Administrators could bring high-profile speakers to lecture on campus with the money from the newspaper program, or the funds could be used to sponsor a new class or program within the School of Media and Public Affairs. In either case, the savings, in part, should achieve the original goal of enhancing student awareness of current events and the media.
Additionally, as the media world increases its emphasis on paid online subscriptions, the University could look into providing such paid subscriptions to students. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal operate in this fashion, and GW could take this opportunity to be a pioneer in the world of higher education by negotiating student access to these services.
The residence hall newspapers were also effective marketing tool when prospective students visited campus. If an improved image was indeed a goal of GW Reads, the University should use some of the savings to support another program that will serve as a draw for those considering GW.
No matter what the goal of the newspaper program was, GW has a responsibility to use the savings to help replace the benefits of the free publications. If administrators fail to do this, it could lend credence to students who are frustrated at the cut. Without some sort of rational spending plan for the money, the removal of this student service will simply mean that the overall quality of education at GW will suffer.
The elimination of GW Reads should be used to open up a new opportunity for improved programming and higher quality education at GW. Otherwise, the newspaper cut would indeed be a real loss.