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Professional Opinion

Don’t judge a college bookstore by its cover

Debunking myths about the college store helps your institution and your students
University Business, October 2015
Brian E. Cartier is CEO of the National Association of College Stores, based in Oberlin, Ohio.
Brian E. Cartier is CEO of the National Association of College Stores, based in Oberlin, Ohio.

With student debt in the trillions and other economic concerns looming over families, college stores often bear the brunt of public anger over course material costs. But stores are working harder than ever to provide students with affordable options that will help them learn, succeed and get that coveted degree.

College stores work closely with academic departments, faculty, library staff and administrators to manage the course material adoption process and to find ways to lower costs for students. Misinformation regarding the campus store is a hindrance to the success of both your students and your institutions.

Here’s what you need to know to combat the most commonly held myths about your campus bookstore.

MYTH:

The college store is the most expensive place for students to get their course materials; online is always a cheaper option.

FACT:

Examples used to perpetuate this myth compare the cost of a new textbook at the bookstore with a version found online at a drastically lower price. But it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

The online version is typically a used or older copy of the book, or a digital or rental version. Campus stores offer these options as well—with the exception of outdated versions—and typically at comparable costs.

Many stores even provide price-comparison apps to enable students to cross-check prices before deciding where to buy or rent. Stores also offer loose-leaf copies and customized textbooks with just the chapters needed for class assignments. Print-on-demand and academic content licensing models to help lower costs for students are being tried at some campus stores.

MYTH:

Student spending on course materials is rising exponentially and becoming a significant part of the overall cost of a college degree.

FACT:

College students are actually spending less on their course materials—and not because they’re buying fewer of them. The savings are partly the result of efforts initiated by campus bookstores.

According to the latest data from the National Association of College Stores’ (NACS) semi-annual report “Student Watch: Attitudes and Behaviors Towards Course Materials Spring 2015” (http://UBmag.me/nacs-study), students spent $563 on average for course materials in the 2014-15 academic year, compared to $701 for the same number of materials in 2007-08.

That’s nearly a 20 percent drop. Moreover, only 2.6 percent of total college costs (tuition, student fees, room and board) for students enrolled in a four-year public, in-state institution are attributed to course materials. At a two-year institution, course materials represent about 6.1 percent of student spending.

MYTH:

Students are not buying course materials because they are too expensive.

FACT:

According to NACS’ Student Watch, which asks students directly, 66 percent reported that the biggest reason for not acquiring materials is that they don’t believe they are needed or necessary.

Students find more value in course materials and are more likely to acquire them when faculty use the materials and provide information to students on how the materials will be used prior to the start of class. If cost is an issue, the campus store can help students with options that fit almost any budget.

College store professionals are passionate about serving the academic missions of their institutions and helping students succeed.

Support from administrators can come in several forms—by becoming a campus store myth buster, and by consistently bringing store management to the table when course material affordability is discussed or when campus retail decisions are made.

Your institution, your campus store and, of course, your students will reap the rewards.

Brian E. Cartier is CEO of the National Association of College Stores in Oberlin, Ohio

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