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Achieve Financial Stability

There are many ongoing expenses that are required to maintain and operate a repository. The cost for severs and equipment, software and programming, bandwidth, staffing, and other operating costs must be paid on an ongoing basis. These costs vary widely among repositories. Factors such as size and usage determine the everyday expenditures faced by a repository. In addition, every repository approaches the issue of funding differently. While some repositories may enjoy a stable source of funding such as an ongoing legislative subsidy or institutional endowment, others are dependent on more transient sources of support such as grants. Many repositories receive funding on an annual basis and must constantly justify the need for continued funding.

There is no “right” answer to the funding question. Ultimately, a repository must use whatever method or model best fits its particular needs and political situation. We have surveyed a number of repositories about strategies to ensure financial stability, and offer some of their approaches as examples of how the issue of financial stability is being addressed in different ways.

The Orange Grove. Obtaining K20 system wide support for a digital repository in Florida has been an uphill battle for five years as we’ve tried unsuccessfully to receive legislative funding. Then, in 2006-07, The Orange Grove received a legislative appropriation of $250,000 to help buy out a perpetual license for the Equella software that runs the repository. This appropriation was a direct result of support from the legislative chair of K12 appropriations. The remaining repository funding sources have been carryover dollars from the merger of two organizations, and the support of the Florida Distance Learning Consortium for two full time employees for multiple years. These carryover dollars have now been expended and will no longer be available.

In spite of the 2006-07 one-time appropriation, our K12 state leadership has not supported our repository project, choosing to fund other projects through state grants. Some of these K12 grants now support the University of South Florida’s Center for Instructional Technology (http://fcit.usf.edu/), a database and website of instructional “assets;” and a Florida State University Learning Systems Institute project (www.cpalms.org) which is a custom programmed repository solution integrated with a database of the new Florida K12 learning standards.

Our state’s shrinking revenues, resulting in multi-million dollar state budget cutbacks, has compounded the challenge for financial support. Our repository funding requests now compete with basic educational institutional needs such as faculty positions and salaries. There appeared to be support for our repository from many in our state, including governor’s staff, but we did not receive any legislative appropriation this year. In spite of these adverse circumstances, in spring of 2009, our postsecondary state level leadership supported and approved the buyout of our repository software for use by educators from our colleges and universities.

What gained the attention of higher education leadership? Open textbooks. Because Florida tuition is increasing, higher education institutional leaders and postsecondary state leadership have seen lower-cost textbooks as a way to reduce the burden on Florida students. The repository is a perfect vehicle to store and distribute these texts. We began adding open textbooks to the repository in late 2008, and began demonstrating the ability of The Orange Grove to deliver these textbooks to faculty statewide.

To take this initiative forward, we most recently have been conceptualizing business plans to make the repository self-sustaining within three years. Our current business plan is based on a partnership with the University Press of Florida (UPF) to provide open access textbooks for general education courses in Florida. Given the millions of enrollments in these courses statewide, a significant reduction in student textbook costs could be achieved, while including a small fee to support the repository and UPF. Given sufficient users, these small fees could result in sufficient financial support to maintain the repository software, market the open textbook concept to faculty, metatag resources, and hire faculty to write textbooks for courses in need of open textbooks. We are still discussing ways to find funds to enable easy online customization of existing open textbooks by faculty who wish to mix, match, and/or create additional textbook components.

We are adding more textbooks to The Orange Grove Digital Repository weekly, and have around 100 open textbooks available for faculty members to use under Creative Commons, GNU, or other open licenses.

For more information on the development of the Orange Grove Text Plus initiative, please see the case study.

A Project of Florida Distance Learning Consortium Funded by Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)