What do residence hall mattresses, test tubes and office supplies have in common with groundbreaking research and innovative library programs?
The presence of all of these - the mundane details of campus life, as well as headline-making aspects of world-class institutions -
are made possible because of the behind-the-scenes efforts of a higher education consortium housed near the Urbana campus: the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.
The consortium, which includes all of the Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago, began in 1958 to allow the member institutions to achieve more as a group than as individual universities.
By pooling funding, people and other resources, the CIC creates agreements that include cooperative purchasing programs, asset sharing through libraries, leadership development programs, teaching partnerships and enhancement of technology infrastructure.
One such technology benefit is Omni-Pop, a fiber optic network that links individual institutions into one network.
"What that means is that your campus network is faster and has much greater capacity," said Barbara McFadden Allen,
director of the CIC.
The network allows researchers to connect to send large quantities of data over the network and collaborate with researchers in other parts of the world.
"(The CIC) brings together really smart people from all these campuses," Allen said. "They're the best in the world at what they do. They don't just come up with ways to solve problems, but they're coming up with new models for how research is being done. We're giving them the tools to make that happen."
The CIC's cooperative purchasing contract allows the institutions to make collective bids for items they purchase in bulk - for example, various kinds of laboratory equipment - said Laura Weisskopf Bleill, a spokeswoman for the CIC.
"Individually, they can get bids, but by using their collective bargaining power, they can negotiate deals to save (each institution) 5 to 25 percent," she said.
According to the CIC, in 2009, the UI saved more than $300,000 through the collective purchasing agreement.
One such agreement the UI frequently utilizes is a car-rental program that saved the Urbana campus another $300,000 in fiscal year 2009 with its CIC-negotiated contract.
According to the CIC, member institutions have saved more than $28 million since 1998 with its purchasing agreement. In 2008-09, the universities saved more than $5.9 million through collaborative purchasing and licensing efforts.
In addition to the universities saving money, students also benefit directly from CIC programs.
The UI participates in a program called CourseShare, which allows students to take long-distance specialized courses that aren't offered at their home institutions. The videoconferencing courses most frequently offered are foreign language classes. Thirty-five UI students have enrolled in the program since it began in 2006.
Another program, called Traveling Scholar, allows graduate students to travel to other campuses to study and conduct research.
Since 1963, the Traveling Scholar Program has allowed doctoral students to spend up to a full academic year pursuing specialized courses of study, researching unique library collections, and working in advanced laboratories and facilities at other CIC institutions with no change in registration procedures from their home university or additional tuition, according to the CIC website.
More than 100 UI students have taken advantage of the program since 2006.
Students also take part in the study abroad collaboration called Alliance of Expanded Study Overseas Program. Illinois students can access 65 study abroad programs in 32 countries. Last year, 25 students from Illinois participated in the program, studying in China, India and Turkey.
Illinois students' on-campus scholarship also is enhanced by the CIC's library partnerships.
"The (UI) Library is both a significant lender and a huge borrower of materials from our partner CIC libraries," said Tom Teper, associate university librarian for collections and associate dean of libraries.
"The nearly 12 million volumes that we hold only represent a fraction of the world's published output," Teper said. "Consequently, there are titles required for scholarship on this campus that we do not have and vice versa. Rather than attempting to track down all of these obscure (and frequently out-of-print) titles, we borrow them from our partners on behalf of faculty and students."
In 2009, Illinois supplied 14,430 items to CIC institutions through the library borrowing program and borrowed 6,052 items from other CIC member universities.
In addition to the printed materials, the CIC libraries are working on a collaborative effort with Google to digitize 10 million books that will be taken from collections at the member libraries and placed in a digital repository called the Hathi Trust.
"The Hathi Trust was conceived of as a repository for member libraries to archive and share their digitized collections. It started with content digitized by Google, but it is expanding to include a much broader array of digitized resources," Teper said.
Measuring the eventual value of this digitization to scholarship is difficult, but the amount of money that the UI would have to spend to digitize 1 million of its own volumes is somewhere between $20 million to $60 million - a resource allocation that few of the CIC institutions would be likely to match locally.
Teper said the CIC provides another form of support for the member libraries.
"There are discussion groups for just about every type of librarian in the CIC, from library deans, to collection development officers to Japanese studies libraries. We are able to share collectively acquired wisdom, to collaborate on projects and to develop new projects."
How it works
The provost of each member institution serves as a representative at the CIC. The group meets several times a year. Each school pays a $150,000 annual membership fee and participates in as many or as few CIC programs as it chooses.
"Everyone is an equal partner," said Bleill. "You get what you want out of it. Certain universities might be more engaged with different aspects such as the technology (programs) or the leadership development."
The CIC is further governed and led by other groups of academics and administrators from the universities who serve on committees for the CIC's various programs.
- Indiana University
- Michigan State University
- Northwestern University
- Ohio State University
- Pennsylvania State University
- Purdue University
- University of Chicago
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Iowa
- University of Michigan
- University of Minnesota
- University of Wisconsin at Madison