The 2015 Environmental Scan of Academic Libraries is the product of ACRL’s Research Planning and Review Committee. In 2014 the committee produced the “Top Trends in Academic Libraries,” published in College and Research Libraries News (Middleton et al. 2014). The Environmental Scan expands and broadens that document. Although broader than the “Top Trends,” the environmental scan provides an overview of the current environment for academic libraries rather than an exhaustive examination. The current scan addresses topics related to higher education in general and their resulting impact on library collections and access, research data services, discovery services, library facilities, scholarly communication, and the library’s influence on student success.
Higher Education Environment
In a time of growing economic inequality in the United States, there is a heightened focus on social mobility and general well-being. As educational completion correlates with income level, the affordability of higher education has become a frequent topic in the media. Rising student debt has led to increased scrutiny of higher education costs and outcomes. In December 2014, the Obama administration released the framework for a college ratings plan that would link federal funding to a number of performance metrics such as a college’s average net price, its students’ completion rates, the percentage of its students receiving Pell Grants, labor-market outcomes, and loan-repayment rates. Many colleges and universities also rely on student tuition to fund most of their operating budgets at a time when net student revenues are declining. Most public institutions are experiencing large cuts in state support and more government oversight. Many community colleges find themselves unable to meet student demand for more affordable educational degree paths. Research funding levels have decreased, leading to an increasingly competitive environment for research institutions (Bidwell 2013). At the same time, data-intensive
research is necessitating new requirements for related infrastructure and data
management services, and the federal government has issued open access mandates for federally funded scientific research. Federal agencies have submitted and are currently revising release plans to comply with the February 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directive (Holdren 2013).
Technology is advancing new delivery models in higher education. The for-profit sector and open education models offer convenient alternatives to traditional place-based programs. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and competency-based education (CBE) models represent such market-based alternatives. Online learning is an attractive option for adult learners, a demographic that has been the focus of many large for-profit institutions; these students can complete degree programs and other credentials at a selfdetermined pace and a lower cost (Hurst 2013). Technology allows students, faculty, and staff to collaborate, teach, and learn at a level that strains existing infrastructures and service models. The current environment “offers new ways to connect things that were previously considered disparate and ‘un-connectable’: people, resources, experiences, diverse content, and communities, as well as experts and novices, formal and informal modes, mentors and advisors” (Abel, Brown, Suess 2013). ...more
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