Penn State Intercom......October 4, 2001

Readership program
is a national model

By Amy Neil
Public Information

Penn State students read more than 1.5 million local, regional and national newspapers this past year, securing the University's position as having the largest newspaper readership program at any university in the nation.

At the University Park campus, students read 975,321 newspapers during the 2000-2001 academic year -- 427,029 copies of USA Today, 281,111 copies of The New York Times and 267,181 copies of the Centre Daily Times, which is the local Knight Ridder paper. At other Penn State campuses, 598,143 newspapers were picked up by students.

"Reading a newspaper each day is perhaps the single most important part of being an informed citizen," said President Graham B. Spanier. "It is critical that college students develop an understanding of the world they will help shape. Reading a newspaper will help them contribute to their careers, their communities and their families."

In 1997, at Spanier's suggestion, the University began providing free copies of The New York Times, USA Today and a daily paper from the local community to students living in campus residence halls at University Park and eight other campuses. This past fall, the program, funded by student tuition, was expanded to include all students living both on- and off-campus. Using their regular student ID cards, students can access more than 100 newspaper dispensing machines at 20 campuses offering undergraduate programs. The Dickinson School of Law will be added to the readership program this fall.

According to Blaine Steensland, director of student affairs at Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley, it now is a daily sight to see students sitting behind newspapers in many of the lounge areas on campus.

"Whether they are catching up on national news or the latest sports, the positive habit of staying informed is being reinforced," he said.

Undergraduates at the Berks and Lehigh Valley campuses read a combined total of more than 1,700 newspapers a week.

Students have deemed the readership program a success. A recent "Penn State Pulse" survey of students participating in the program shows that 85 percent are satisfied with the program. More than half of the students surveyed said the program contributed to the overall quality of their education.

According to the students, reading a newspaper on a regular basis has helped them feel more informed about local community issues, have a better understanding of public policy and politics, and enhanced their participation in class discussions. More than three-fourths of the students said they had an improved ability to discuss current events and were able to have informed opinions about national and international concerns.

"The purpose of the program is to help students develop a more complete understanding of the world they live in and enhance their learning environment," said Bill Asbury, vice president for student affairs. "The student survey results are very encouraging. It is clear to the administration that our students want access to daily newspapers and that it is having an impact on the learning process."

In addition, two-fifths of students surveyed said they never, or very infrequently read newspapers before coming to Penn State.

"Students are discovering things that they never thought were possible," said Larry Pollock, director of student affairs at Penn State New Kensington and an art instructor. "The program has helped students become readers again."

Students at the New Kensington campus read a total of more than 700 copies of USA Today, The New York Times and Valley News Dispatch each week.

Sixteen percent of the students surveyed said they had instructors who required them to read a newspaper for class, while 63 percent said their instructors referred to news articles regularly in class.

"Reading newspapers is a natural supplement to reading textbooks in our classes," said Doug Anderson, dean of the College of Communications.

Students surveyed at the University Park campus were asked how the availability of The New York Times, USA Today and Centre Daily Times impacted their readership of The Daily Collegian, the student-run newspaper. Most of the students taking advantage of the newspaper program said they continue to read The Daily Collegian as often as before. Almost 20 percent of the students surveyed said they read The Daily Collegian more often.

Students have benefited from the readership program in other ways. According to Al Matyasovsky, operations supervisor for the University's Office of Physical Plant, 185 tons of newspaper were recycled at University Park last year. Recycled newspapers are marketed by Superior Waste Services and a portion of the profits is donated to the University's general scholarship fund. USA Today, The New York Times and the Centre Daily Times offer matching contributions. Since the inception of the readership program, 623 tons of newspapers have been recycled, and more than $23,000 added to the general scholarship fund.

"Although University Park is the only campus that is generating scholarship dollars, students at all campuses benefit from the scholarship money," he said.

The Newspaper Readership Program is normally available to students during the fall and spring semesters only. However, a pilot program was held during the second, six-week summer session at the University Park campus to determine if students would be interested in having papers available during summer classes.

Free copies of The New York Times, USA Today and the Centre Daily Times were available in limited numbers at the HUB-Robeson Center dispensing machine. During the six-week period, students read more than 56,700 newspapers -- an average of almost 1,900 papers per day.

Information about the history of the program and a listing of current newspaper participants are available online at http://www.psu.edu/ur/newspaper/.



Amy Neil can be reached at amyneil@psu.edu.

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