UNL’s College Readership Program will continue despite vote

By Riley Johnson, News Net Nebraska

It’s a Friday morning inside the Nebraska Union and Dain Vasina has his morning surrounding him: The New York Times, USA Today, the Lincoln Journal Star, the Omaha World-Herald and a two-liter of Diet Mountain Dew.

“Free newspapers: that’s half the reason I went back to college,” said Vasina, who studies history and English at at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “And I’m a 54-year-old returning junior.”

Vasina’s news fix is provided through UNL’s College Readership Program, funded by a $4.37 fee each student pays each semester.

Dain Vasina reads the news
Dain Vasina, a junior history major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reads The New York Times inside the Nebraska Union Friday morning. The four newspapers Vasina reads daily are provided by UNL’s College Readership Program, which is supported by student fees.

On Wednesday, UNL students voted against funding the program by a slim 36-vote margin. But Association of Students of the University of Nebraska President Eric Kamler said campus newspaper readers needn’t worry.

“The program’s going to keep going on,” said Kamler, a senior agricultural economics major. “It won’t be going anywhere.”

That’s because the program receives Fund B student fees, and the ASUN ballot questions pertaining to Fund B users act as surveys, not referenda, he said.

And, on those Fund B fees, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents has the final say on funding. Kamler said he contacted the regents after the vote Wednesday night, and he plans to visit with them before the board’s monthly meeting March 15.

Kamler, who uses the program to read the Journal Star and World-Herald, said he was surprised by the vote because of the program’s popularity.

Despite a steady decline since the 2008-2009 school year, UNL has the third largest Collegiate Readership program in the country according to Jason Meyer, senior account manager at USA Today, which started the program. UNL trails just behind Pennsylvania State University and the University of Utah.

Last year, UNL students picked up more than 757,000 papers, according to program documents.

About 450 schools participate in the program that began in 2003.

The value of free local and national newspapers for students is obvious, Kamler said, and that free information is one of the reasons he wants to keep the program around. Kamler isn’t sure whether the student vote resulted from confusion between funding for the program and other campus publications or whether it’s a signal students are turning away from print and turning to the Internet.

Kevin Coleman, a senior philosophy major, likes that he can skim the Journal Star and do crossword puzzles in print because of the program.

It’s made getting news easier for him, but if it no longer existed he would go to the Journal Star’s website.

“But it doesn’t really matter to me,” Coleman said.

Marlene Beyke, director of administration for ASUN, said the program only charges for the papers students pick up and it could survive for a while without student funding.

Program administrators have said they only expect to spend $190,000 of their $200,000 budget for the year. In an under-budget year, the remaining money is transferred to a reserve account, which has about $100,000, said Greg Jablonski, who oversees the program’s budget, in a Daily Nebraskan story last month.

That reserve fund would allow ASUN officials to slowly phase out the program if its funding were ever stripped, Beyke said.

As for this vote, Beyke said it may be a sign ASUN needs to evaulate the location of its newspaper bins according to student foot traffic patterns, and Kamler said the next ASUN administration should hold town hall meetings to collect student opinion on the program.

“It will definitely be here next year, and we will make every effort to make the changes that we need to make sure it does remain on campus,” she said.

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