In her career as National Vice President of Marketing for Barnes & Noble College, Janine von Juergensonn has come to understand that a college’s decision to outsource their campus bookstore isn’t entered into lightly — and the reasons aren’t always financial. “It’s important, of course,” she says, “but when you talk about the economics of us managing the bookstore for them, those advantages tend to speak for themselves.” So when you ask von Juergensonn what she does consider the most important factor in the decision, she’ll tell you in two words. “Everything else.”
As with most Barnes & Noble College partners’ campuses, that understanding of what was important to the University of California, Irvine was crucial in winning trust and building an important partnership. With a growing student body of over 33,000; an unparalleled academic record along with achievements in research, student affairs and co-curricular learning; UCI had a deep commitment to their existing bookstore operation, but they were also looking for something more.
“Partnerships for us are really important,” says Dr. Thomas Parham, the University’s Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs, “because we understand the value of developing strategic relationships with partners who share both our values and our thirst for educational excellence.” Those values are the principles UCI was founded on — and the very reason that Dr. Parham, a class of ’77 alum, left a faculty appointment at the University of Pennsylvania, and returned to the campus in 1985 to uphold. “It’s the same now as when I was a student back then; a focus on academic excellence, a commitment to making our campus and facilities as accessible as possible, and an understanding about keeping all this as affordable as it can possibly be. That same three-legged stool has to be equally important to a strategic partner,” he says.
Central to maintaining those values has been the role of the UCI bookstore, The Hill. “It’s just an integral part of the campus,” says Dan Dooros, UCI’s Associate Vice Chancellor Student Affairs. A former bookstore director at The Hill, Dooros fully understands the challenges of academic retailing and wanted to ensure the bookstore kept abreast of them. “Technology is driving at a faster pace than an independent store can maintain, and because the academic needs here are key, we didn’t want to ever be in a situation where we couldn’t handle the needs of our students,” he says.
Dooros appreciated the online learning capability Barnes & Noble College could bring, such as the OER Courseware platform, which could ensure his students cutting-edge delivery of learning materials and, as a campus ranked by The New York Times as No. 1 among U.S. universities that do the most for low-income students, he also saw something else. “Educating students on appropriate ways of acquiring their course materials is incredibly important to us,” he explains. “We have a large number of students who are in some kind of financial aid program, together with first-generation students for whom this is all totally new territory. There’s a smart way to buy a book — whether it’s using the rental used book market or bringing an understanding of the vast array of other available options. This is where the bookstore can really make a difference for our students.”
The impact Barnes & Noble College had on affordability for the campus when it assumed management of The Hill was immediate, as Denise Nakakihara, Regional Manager, explains. “It’s extremely important to our UCI partners that we demonstrate cost saving initiatives for students through our textbook affordability programs, and when we rolled out our Price Match program for the fall term, it saved students nearly $15,000. Combined with our rental, digital and used book programs, in total, they realized textbook savings of $488,029 for the fall and winter quarters,” she says.
Those kinds of statistics provide perhaps the most measurable parts of the partnership, others, though less quantifiable, fit well into the UCI design. “We consider UCI to be a unique campus,” says Dooros, “and we really appreciate that Barnes & Noble College understands the importance of local input along with their national support.” Von Juergensonn agrees. “The decision-making for UCI doesn’t happen in our home office,” she says, “It happens right there in Irvine.” It gives Nakakihara and store manager, Stacy Weidner, the opportunity to develop new programs for The Hill, whether the challenge is successfully integrating the bookstore’s existing staff to a new operation, or building outreach programs to student services and faculty. “With 16,000 (non-student) employees on campus, we know we have only just scratched the surface in building those relationships, but we have amazing support and we’ll be intentional about connecting with the many departments and schools within the University,” Weidner says.
Just how The Hill will continue to contribute to the student experience at UCI is an important issue to Dr. Parham. “If you believe that 20, 30 or 40 percent of what a student learns in college is acquired outside of the classroom, our job in Student Affairs is to try to contribute to that co-curricular learning, believing every moment is a teaching moment, so The Hill becomes a learning community where you’ll learn the life lessons that are going to sustain you in years well beyond your time at college,” Parham says. “As a consequence, we expect The Hill to be a destination, not a pass-through. We want it to be a place that people come into and see themselves reflected in the fabric of that institution, to hear a lecture or a reading by an author, to interact in a way that makes them want to come back again.”
It’s a point Dooros endorses. “It’s a destination and not just a place to buy something,” he says, expanding on some ambitious goals for The Hill this year. “There’s already a refurbishment program in place, along with an initiative we’ll be rolling out for new Student Information Systems, where we’ll be able to connect students to the books they need. These are all big issues — and they’ll make a tremendous difference,” he adds.
Further strengthening the partnership is a new scholarship program that UCI developed with Barnes & Noble College to tackle the issue of literacy. The program is an example of the “reciprocal exchange” that the UCI and Barnes & Noble College partnership has produced, where corporate profits are reinvested back into the UCI student community as a way of giving back. The students in turn will develop projects that impact the broader community inside and outside of the University. It is something Dr. Parham envisioned and an endeavor Barnes & Noble College was more than happy to accommodate. This is an example of the synergy created when strategic partners align their principles and values to make a difference in the lives of students.
“Next to being a parent, there is no greater blessing in life than being entrusted with the personal and intellectual growth and development of young people. It’s something we guard very carefully,” says Dr. Parham. “We want them to have a first-in-class experience here. Part of being able to guarantee that, is surrounding yourself with strategic partners who are equally committed to developing a new generation of young people. I think that’s what we’ve found with Barnes & Noble College.”