In March, Inside Higher Ed released an “inaugural” Survey of College & University Chief Academic Officers.  This report was the fourth in a series of surveys of senior academic leaders with the three other reports conducted in 2011 focusing on admissions officers, chief business officers, and presidents.   While all the reports provide information on what the key issues of concern are for our institutional leaders, I want to focus on the reports of our CAOs and presidents.  The two reports of interest are:

The CAO survey had 1081 participants, while the survey of Presidents had 956 participants.  There is no information that can confirm that both the CAO and President from the same institution were in the majority for the respondents. So, the respondents for each report could be from different institutions.  However, the point of discussing these surveys relates to an article summarizing the findings of the presidents survey in which it was stated, “[i]n only one category — library resources and services — did a majority of all presidents (and a bare majority at that: 51 percent) rate the technology investment as “’very effective.’”  You can read the entire article here:  http://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/president2011

The good news was that presidents rated the technology investment as “very effective”,  but in a perhaps interesting difference, 60% of the presidents at public 4- year undergraduate institutions rated it “very effective” while only 46% of the presidents at private institutions gave it the same rating.  That’s a pretty significant difference.  As I’m a librarian in a private undergraduate institution, it caught my attention.

In comparison, in the provost report that was released in March of this year, they were also asked to rate the overall effectiveness of investment in information technology.  The provosts, as did the presidents, rated the IT investments to support the library highest.  58% of the provosts ranked it first, compared to 51% of the presidents.  Again there was a distinction between publics and privates with 60% of the public undergraduate CAOs  versus 50% of the privates giving it the highest rating.   Again, the overall good news is that the library resources and services received the highest rating in terms of effectiveness when compared to other technology investments on campus.

Both reports are worth reading because of the information that is shared in the surveys, but it also important to read to what presidents and provosts consider to be the major challenges facing their institutions.  For example 84% of the provosts surveyed consider improving retention and degree completion as one of the top five challenges.

In the Value report, in the section on Student Retention and Graduation Rates [page 32-35]it is pointed out that “lower retention rates can mean higher costs per degree conferred” [p32] and in all of the reports that have been produced by Inside Higher Ed, costs are a key factor and area of concern.  So how can libraries demonstrate their value in improving retention rates and helping to contribute to keeping costs down?

One of the contributing factors as expressed in the Value report in terms of  why students choose to leave an institution is the issue that they don’t develop a personal connection with their institution.  [p.33] Here’s an opportunity for us because we know that librarians can be very influential in the first year of study and by helping to cultivate a personal connection with students we could be the ones to help them feel engaged and attached to the institution.   Think in terms of your orientation programs, or introduction to library research sessions that you conduct for first year students.  This is but one area in which we could collect data and start to seriously document how our early and frequent contact with students contributes to their establishing a connection and thus contributes to retaining them as students.  See the Research Agenda section, pages 107-109, for other data points that could be used to help establish correlations between use of library services and student retention rates.  And if you begin to engage in these types of activities, share with us what your findings are.

If nothing else, read the reports and consider establishing contacts with your key academic leaders if you haven’t already.  Perhaps this is an opportunity to establish liaison services for senior institutional administrators.  Invite them to talk about the issues that concern them and determine if there are other means that you have to help demonstrate how you can assist them in addressing the issues that they consider particularly critical.  Your key takeaway is that the reports demonstrate that of the provosts and presidents who responded to the survey they consider the library resources to be a key investment.  Your work is to demonstrate that the investment has payoffs in areas of their highest concerns, which could be student retention on your campus.

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