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Leading college writing centers into the future: Strategies for survival and sustainability

Kristine E Barnett, Johnson & Wales University


The purpose of this study was to explore critical challenges faced by U.S. college and university writing centers and to compile strategies used by writing centers to remain viable. Writing centers have evolved over the last century to become viable contributors to students' higher education experience, yet the sustainability of centers is threatened by budget cuts, marginalization, and in some cases, ineffective leadership. Using a mixed methods, sequential approach, a Web-based questionnaire, designed to reflect trends in the literature, was issued to writing center professionals nationwide (N = 113) and interviews with prominent writing center leaders (N = 7) were conducted to extend and expand upon the questionnaire data. Quantitative data were reported in percentages and means, and qualitative information was collapsed into themes (Creswell, 2007). Most writing center personnel responding to the questionnaire (75%) reported their centers were experiencing significant changes in a variety of areas: service, delivery of service, mission, or leadership. However, the most critical challenges mentioned were related to funding issues and the need to secure additional funding. Furthermore, funding issues were projected to be the most significant future challenge. Interview information supported the idea that the writing center field is in flux, and that writing center leaders must make changes to combat funding issues, integrate the centers better within their campus communities, and produce and distribute hard evidence on the productivity and success of centers. Overall, the study revealed that, while growing, the writing center field must continue to mature. Taking proactive steps to support viability may be made more challenging by marginalization and funding insecurity, factors the field has yet to adequately address. Effective writing center leaders, many of whom may be under-prepared for the responsibilities and complexities of administrative leadership, must learn how to fit the center into the broader campus landscape. Recommendations from this study propose that writing center leaders explore non-traditional funding sources, engage in research that uses scientific methods of inquiry, readjust their concepts of writing centers as isolated by institutional context, and collaborate with key decision makers on campus.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Barnett, Kristine E, "Leading college writing centers into the future: Strategies for survival and sustainability" (2007). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3315138.