Thousands of college campuses throughout the country outsource their campus bookstore operations to the experts — companies that understand today’s higher education industry and deliver compelling campus store models to meet the needs of diverse communities.

No matter the type of college or the demographic of the population, nearly all students on these campuses face the same challenge: College. Isn’t. Cheap. And while many might partly blame this on the price of their textbooks, taking a closer look at the operators of your campus bookstore will prove otherwise.

What students want 

Campus bookstore operators play a significant role in determining the best affordability paths for faculty and students.

A stable and growing footprint in the industry means campus bookstore operators constantly have a finger on the pulse of today’s college campuses and students’ course material buying habits. With this unique vantage point, industry leaders in campus retail are addressing higher education’s affordability challenge head-on.

“Our insight into today’s college students gives us the ability to determine what’s working and what’s not when it comes to delivering the best and most affordable course material options,” says Jennifer Hatton, senior vice president of retail operations and course materials at Follett Higher Education.

One big trend on today’s college campuses is the rise in the number of adjunct, or part-time, faculty members. This is significant because as this instructor group grows, so do requests to use digital materials compared to traditional textbooks.

Today, digital courseware and ebooks make up a significant portion of course material usage among campuses. To support this growth, campus bookstore operators are working with institutions and publishers to develop solutions that will streamline the delivery of digital products to students.

“We’re in the course material solutions business, and we aim to provide easy access to all types of materials throughout our network of stores,” added Hatton. “While digital options certainly bring down costs for students, many still prefer the physical textbook. We have to ensure we’re providing the right balance and mix of affordable options for both faculty and students.”

One of today’s most popular options among students is rental textbooks. Renting a textbook can yield significant savings — up to 80 percent off the purchase price of a brand-new edition.

High-tech help

Physical or digital? Rent or buy? In a complex course materials world, how do campuses simplify the process for students and faculty? Roe McFarlane, chief digital officer at Follett, explains that technology plays a central role.

“Our value as a campus partner is no longer based on the model of yesterday’s bookstore,” says McFarlane. “Investments in technology and campus integration allow us to deliver solutions that connect students, faculty and administration onto a streamlined course materials path that improves both access and affordability.”

On a subset of campuses throughout North America, campus store operators are disrupting the status quo with an integrated group purchasing program that delivers all required course materials — print, digital and supplies — as part of a student’s tuition or fees. It's a simple solution to a common challenge: making sure all students have their needed materials on day one of class so they are ready to learn. 

In addition, more campuses are embracing online academic tools, a technology suite developed by campus bookstore operators to help deliver a hassle-free course materials journey.

Tools of the trade

For faculty, academic tools provide power to research and adopt low-cost options for their students, like open educational resources (OER), including courseware that can be offered for only $25 by Lumen Learning. For students, the tools enable them to view, purchase and access materials directly within the campus learning management system. This one-stop digital access shelf mitigates the issues often associated with online learning, like remembering passwords and navigating among materials.

“We’re at the nexus of education and technology, and because of our position we understand the complexities of digital learning and how to use technology to innovate the student experience,” added McFarlane. “We’re leveraging our expertise to deliver better value and a better online experience.”

With today’s college campuses vastly ranging in size, type, demographic and teaching methods, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to campus bookstores and course material affordability. What works best for one campus might not deliver the same value to another.

That’s why campus bookstore operators play a significant role in determining the best affordability paths for faculty and students. Their far-reaching presence and industry expertise allow them to provide a complete portfolio of course material options to the campus communities they serve.

And with technology and campus integration now a mainstay for today’s leading campus bookstore operators, administrators have more options than ever before to help drive down costs for students.