Atlanta University Center, Inc.

Participating Organizations

  • Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
  • Clark Atlanta University , Atlanta, GA
  • Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA
  • Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), Atlanta, GA

Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.


Joint Programming to launch and manage one or more programs
  • Improve programmatic outcomes
  • Maximize financial resources
  • Improve the quality of services / programs
  • Potential closure of one or more of the partnering organizations
  • Financial problems / pressures within one or more of the partnering organizations
  • Advancement of a shared goal
  • Board member(s)
  • Executive Director(s) / CEO(s) / President(s)
  • Suggested / encouraged the collaboration
  • Through a challenge grant
  • To conduct financial due dilligence
  • To draft the governing agreement or provide other legal advice
  • To facilitate negotiations or discussions that led to the formation of the collaboration
  • To develop a business plan or strategic plan for the collaboration

Formation: Within the southern capital of Atlanta is a consortium of six private, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) established as early as 1868 to educate former slaves. With support from Robert Winship Woodruff (philanthropist and former CEO of The Coca Cola Company) and the Woodruff Foundation, five of these independent schools with five libraries combined resources in 1982 to create one library to be shared by 10,000 students and faculty. But by 1999, the shared library was a visible threat to student success and institutional accreditation. The library’s parent organization was unable to sustain needed resources and services, placing the education of so many at risk.
In 2000, the presidents of the five schools sounded an alarm, securing the services of a celebrated consultancy team to make recommendations for strengthening the consortium. With the renewed support of the Woodruff Foundation, the Presidents were strategic as they collaborated and negotiated the dissolution of the parent organization and the distribution of assets to create and incorporate the library as an independent 501 c (3) under agreement to provide information services and programs in support of the curricula of the participating schools.


One Executive Director / CEO / President

Management: In 2002, an external study commissioned by the Presidents of the four remaining Atlanta University Center (AUC) schools provided recommendations for governance and funding of an incorporated shared library. Discussion and decision making involved library staff, the provosts, presidents and faculty from across all schools. Recommendations addressed incorporation, leadership, funding, etc. As a result, the Library CEO meets regularly with representative groups to include a board of trustees; meets monthly with all provosts; monthly with a library advisory faculty council; monthly with a student council and with an information technology council.
This structure contributed to decision making for many successful projects, e.g. building renovation, property acquisition for an adjacent park, ownership of a street block for improved student safety, fundraising exceeding $20M, expansion of archival and electronic collections, stable leadership and a plan for succession.


  • Raising funds or integrating fund development to support the collaboration
  • Creating a shared culture
  • Internal and external communication

Challenges: Valuing the history and pride of the individual AUC schools, the Library seeks to preserve that cultural legacy and support school curriculums. The library has engaged the disparate AUC staffs in conversations around the shared sense of urgency to effect teaching and learning excellence. Strategic planning was conducted with staff from all of the collaborators. The CEO promoted a vision of greatness and the privilege of serving students in the HBCU environment, thereby reinforcing a sense of pride. The vision for a great 21st century library serving as the “center of the AU Center” was born. Both physically and virtually, there is branding to reflect the participating members of this new organization for shared services. It has become “our” library versus “the” library.
To further foster a sense of community and strengthen AUC-wide communication, a new position (communications manager) was created. At the CEO’s request, the communications manager was invited to join a council of campus public information officers. In addition, a Library newsletter was created and broadly distributed throughout the campuses. Each school president placed the CEO on all faculty meeting agendas and advocated on behalf of the shared vision of a “great library.” Communications is a documented strategic priority.
The shared library is without an alumni base. Development efforts depend upon the strength of Library programs and effective articulation of its vision. In a series of cold call visits, the library was introduced to community and the AUC collaborative introduced to local foundations. The opportunity to support all AUC schools by contributing to the shared library has become an attractive option for donors.


  • Financial savings - Coordination / consolidation of programming
  • Fund development - Successful capital campaign
  • Reduction in overall cost per unit of service - Reduction in overall cost per unit of service
  • Improved quality of programs / services
  • Improved programmatic outcomes

Impact: Since the 2004 collaboration, member school presidents have participated in the library’s strategic planning processes, ensuring that resulting goals and objectives reflect the needs of their institutions. Financial stability and resource development have been key focus areas in the last two strategic plans (2006-2009; 2010-2015). Successful outcomes include: cost savings for library services, demonstrated financial accountability, institutional and donor support.
A cost analysis was conducted comparing the financial investment required by each AUC institution to operate its own individual library. The results indicated that by sharing a library, institutional members realize a combined average annual savings of $3.28M in operational expenditures and a share of a $22M asset. Additional savings in facilities and overhead costs are also realized.
Operational autonomy is a major facet of the AUC collaborative, making the Library fully accountable for its business services and financial management. The Library has demonstrated good financial stewardship, evidenced by six consecutive unqualified audits, with no irregularities. This record of financial success was central to garnering donor support for an interior renovation and construction project. Funds were raised with both foundation support and AUC partner contributions.
The financial benefits of partnership are clear. However, the collaborative planning and implementation of programming, services and preservation efforts also have enhanced the reputation of both the Library and its AUC partners on a local, regional and national level.


Model: “The nation’s historically black colleges are being challenged from within to overhaul their operations and image as they face outside pressures for more accountability (The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 27, 2010).”
The current economic woes facing black institutions charged with educating minority students (HBCUs confer 30% of all undergraduate degrees earned by black students) are jeopardizing accreditation and academic success, forcing schools to re-examine their missions and survival within a changing higher education landscape.
While there are conversations at the state level about merging or closing HBCU’s, the AUC model offers an alternative that improves operations and preserves legacies.
When one considers the “economies of scale” (a single investment serves four institutions) versus the traditional “cost center,” this is a good model. The model demonstrates the benefit of the “multiplier effect” where one donation supports five institutions and expands the reach and impact of each contribution. The AUC Library collaboration strengthens the viability of five autonomous institutions with distinct, yet common, missions to serve minority populations. This model has certainly inspired cooperation among the schools as they continue to “find a way” to improve opportunities for life-long learning.

Efficiencies Achieved

The Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library annually presents a budget request to its Board of Trustees for approval. The member institutions are assessed for 100 percent of the annual operating budget. This assessment may be offset by any revenue that the library earns. The budget approval is contingent upon the success of the library's rationale for spending and the support of the chief financial officers of each member institution. With the exception of one year, during the recent economic crisis, the library has experienced an approved incremental growth in budget for all years since restructuring. The Library Board meets four times per year, and financials are on the agenda of every meeting. There is also a finance committee that is chaired by one of the at-large board members and includes one of the institutional presidents. This committee meets a minimum of four times per year and assures that the operational spending and the investment spending is on track.
The Woodruff Library as a collaborative venture creates a tremendous operating value for each of its member institutions. In 2007, a benchmarking exercise, to justify the 2007 budget request, examined the administrative operating costs per square foot of library space on peer campuses. The findings provided clear evidence of this model’s operating efficiency as follows:
- Robert W. Woodruff Library = $4.73 per sq. ft.
- Adelphi University (Clark Atlanta University peer) = $12.11 per sq. ft.
- Dickinson College (Morehouse College peer) = $7.36 per sq. ft.
- Mt. Holyoke College (Spelman College peer) = $12.79 per sq. ft.
- Columbia Seminary (Interdenominational Theological Center peer) = $5.60 per sq. ft.
The benchmarking exercise also examined library expenditures for library materials per college and compared it to available data about such spending by peer institutions. Again, the findings indicated evidence of efficiency and cost savings for each member of this collaboration.
- Expense to Morehouse College = $344 per student
o Peer Schools = $763 & $1516
- Expense to Spelman College =$400 per student
o Peer Schools = $763 & $1307
- Expense to Clark Atlanta University = $447
o Peer Schools = $768 & 521
- Expense to Interdenominational Theological Center = $1036
o Peer Schools = $3465
*Note: Since this benchmark report, the materials expenditure by the library for the four schools has increased.
In addition to substantial per institution savings in library administrative and materials costs, the collaborative structure of the Woodruff Library allows for specific and targeted revenue generating avenues. With an estimated annual revenue of over $300K for two entrepreneurial ventures, the member institutional funding required to support the Woodruff Library will be reduced. As well, the spending policy for the library endowment provides funds to offset the collaboration members’ obligations.
One quantitative benefit of this library collaborative includes expanded credit opportunities through the financial strength of the four accredited member institutions. This access to credit, funded in part, a recent $16.2M building renovation resulting in the creation of a 21st century learning space. An additional quantitative benefit is the library’s eligibility to participate in nine cooperative buying groups due to its affiliation with four unique educational institutions. This benefit is measured in cost savings per purchase or contract entered, and these savings fund programmatic expansion efforts.
A final quantitative benefit is the Library’s role of transportation service provider for the students and faculty of the member institutions. Transportation for students and faculty throughout the campuses, to the Library and to nearby rail system stops is managed by the library. (The Shuttle program was an asset assigned to the library during the distribution of assets.) The Library’s shuttle program promotes efficiency by avoiding the duplicative efforts of each member institution operating or contracting for separate transit options. This benefit is measured in cost savings per program rider and total ridership numbers per semester.


Institutions of higher education must be accredited. In the state of Georgia, this accreditation is extended by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS). SACS has foundational requirements that an institution must meet, and they are identified as “Core Requirements.” Core Requirement 2.9 states that the “institution , through ownership or formal arrangements or agreements, provides and supports student and faculty access and user privileges to adequate library collections and services and to other learning and information resources consistent with the degree offered. Collections, resources, and services are sufficient to support all of its educational, research and public service programs.”
In 2000, the quality of library services was threatening the reaffirmation of accreditation by SACS. Coupled with feedback from students, faculty and trustees, the college presidents were highly motivated and commissioned the consultancy report of 2002. That report presented eight recommendations: restructuring to make the library an independent entity; appointment of a director with full authority over the library budget; funding mechanism; strategic planning; security planning; hiring of a communications and education director; library liaison program; and two-way information technology communication between the schools and the Woodruff Library. As a result of this report, the presidents hired an interim director to guide their restructuring effort and to implement the report. Using a traditional model for non-profit governance, the library was incorporated. The Board of Trustees is representative and includes the college presidents, three at-large members with legal, financial and library expertise from the external community, one faculty and one provost. This structure is successful because members realize the benefit of a shared resource and because the presidents delegate the responsibility of participation in Board meetings. Thus, responsibility and familiarity with operational issues begins with the top leadership of the member institutions. The bumps experienced included, agreement about the redistribution of assets and the merging of four separate organizational cultures. Legal counsel was employed to provide models for asset redistribution, and ultimately a decision made to split the pie five ways and then reallocate the split wholly to the library to establish an endowment. The Board structure addressed the issue of the differing college cultures whereby each president would bring their institution's unique cultures to the library table.
This collaboration endorses the concept of the library as the heart of the academic village. Students and faculty across disciplines and schools come together enriching and diversifying programs and conversations. They share in teaching and learning, and the partnerships with external organizations benefit all of the collaboration members, e.g., the completion of a $16M renovation project wouldn't have been funded unless the effectiveness of the collaboration was evident. Success is measured annually by the budgeting approval, outcomes of the strategic plan, support from the foundation community, successful reaccreditation of each member institution, the surveyed satisfaction of students and faculty, and the library’s capacity to build community and to reflect the excellence of the member institutions as a Great Library for the largest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

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