College stores manage the logistics of knowledge. Just as Napoleon and Frederick the Great said that “an army marches on its stomach,” a college’s ability to successfully educate its students hinges on the availability and quality of course materials. On a college campus, the college store can be the quartermaster who makes it all happen.
It’s 2016 – 8 years after the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, designed in part to enhance transparency and encourage affordability for faculty during content selection. And yet, the cost of textbooks only seems to be rising.
Independent college stores know the textbook game as well as anyone – how publishers court professors, why professors select texts, how students go about procuring them, and what it takes to meet everyone’s needs. They are caught between publishers and students, squarely in the center of the ‘principal-agent problem,’ — and as the adjoining entity, it falls to the college store to prevent market failure and become the campus’ hub of knowledge distribution. In order to do so, college stores must understand why better, more affordable course materials aren’t making it to campus in the first place.
You Can’t Sell What Faculty Don’t See
The textbook marketplace might be changing quickly, but the textbook discovery process has not. Faculty and academic departments, the true buyer of content (the entity deciding which content to use and purchase), largely discover content when publishers knock on their door to pitch texts. Teachers and department heads deliberate on the proposed materials and select them as their final adoption unaware of the final cost to the student. Those books then make their way into syllabi and students buy them (or choose not to).
Data Source: Campus Computing
With the litany of responsibilities that come with teaching in 2016, from administrative work to meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, faculty don’t have the time or resources to single-handedly research the incalculable number of available options from other publishers and creators. Adjuncts, whose numbers continue to grow, are especially strained by heavy teaching loads and limited input. The 2016 Campus Computing Faculty Survey for ICBA revealed that 39% of faculty surveyed had never heard of OER with another 36% indicating they knew a little, but had never used or reviewed OER materials. Further, a 2014 US PIRG survey showed that just 23% of professors rated publisher websites as “informative and easy to use.” As the true buyer of content, faculty bear a huge responsibility. They want to select the best and most affordable course materials available for their students, but they don’t have the tools to help them in the content discovery process.
Students Take What They Can Get
At the end of this chain of publishing, sales, and distribution, stands the student — stuck with a textbook and subsequent cost they have little control over. Rather than being able to focus solely on their studies, they are distracted with the procurement and stress of unaffordable materials. They resort to an assortment of online retailers, inconsistent formats, sharing arrangements, pirated copies, or refusing to purchase the material all together. Victim to a tightly controlled distribution process, they become frustrated that their champions – faculty and the college store – appear indifferent to their financial burden.
Remember The Quartermaster
There is an entity perfectly positioned to realign the market and bring value to the surface: the independent college store. By becoming a hub of content knowledge that connects professors with the content they want at a price point students need, the college store is able to fulfill an important campus function. The college store can save the entire process – providing a channel for the efficient distribution of course materials by facilitating the discovery and selection of high-quality, affordable curricula.
There are tools available to help college stores adapt to the changing course materials marketplace in a way that provides better service to students through better service to faculty. With a combination of content discovery tools that benefit professors and sales/communication tools that benefit students, independent college stores are able to solve a problem they are perfectly positioned to solve.
For more info on our Hero tool, please contact your Sidewalk representative or email email@example.com.