Last year, when the Kuali Foundation announced that it was going to add a "professional open source company" to the Kuali ecosystem, it was acknowledging a truism about the use of community-built software in higher education: Sometimes throwing money at a problem really is the best way to get things done.
As a document that outlines the arrangement explains, Kuali needed faster delivery of outcomes; completion of products; an improved user experience; and a way to distribute development costs across more institutions. Instead of waiting around for the community to address the gaps, this most distinguished of institutional open source initiatives spun out a C corp. KualiCo, as it was named, would generate revenue by hosting open source software for schools and through development projects. Its initial funding would come from the foundation. Although the Kuali functionality would continue to be open source, the infrastructure to allow cloud hosting would be privately owned.
The approach resembles that pragmatic makeover of open source undertaken by Kuali. Rather than committing hours of staff time to develop software, Unizin's founding member schools (including Indiana University and Colorado State) are committing dollars — $1.05 million each over the course of three years. If it sounds hefty, remember: That's still a pittance compared to the cost of equivalent digital content services on the commercial market.
Good lord, who writes this stuff?