After successive years of annual state budget deficits and extensive spending cuts, the State of California’s economic woes may now be yielding a surprising benefit for students. Faced with declining support from state funding, educational institutions like the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system recognized that increasing the costs of tuition would create significant financial pressures for their students, as Gerry Hanley, Ph.D., Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Technology Services for CSU, explains. “When you have over a third of your students receiving enough financial aid to cover both their tuition and their books and supplies, that tells you just how important affordability is for student success.” It led CSU to a multifaceted and innovative drive to reduce the cost of education and, in the process, find a more effective response to the cost of learning materials.
CSU already had some impressive credentials with developing affordability resources for its students, but Hanley believed there were still other opportunities that might deliver some significant cost reductions. Part of that process involved collaboratively working with publishers, distributors and faculty on combined approaches to help achieve those goals. It’s a collection of stakeholders Hanley describes as a ‘complex eco-system,’ requiring the participation of all concerned to help work towards a solution. Barnes & Noble College Director of Digital Education Nicole Guerrieri has been associated with the Cal State initiative for the past two years and is impressed by the scope of the program. “Each year the momentum seems to grow — when everyone in the room is committed to affordability and what we can do for students, good things are always going to come out of it,” she remarks.
Technology is just one of the tools Barnes & Noble College is using to help CSU cut the cost of course materials and textbooks, and thereby reduce the financial burden on students. “We run a regular query of all of our digital titles, offering the most affordable options that are available for rentals and post that on FacultyEnlight for our CSU schools,” Guerrieri says. The initiative has helped support CSU’s impressive Rent Digital program, which offers significant savings, achieved by reworking the business models for e-textbook accessibility.
Guerrieri explains that future plans include enhancements to ensure faculty registered with CSU will see the Rent Digital options first, and order directly from their FacultyEnlight platform instead of having to research multiple sources for savings. “We want to be a significant partner in affordability, and technology is a great place for us to do it,” she adds. Barnes & Noble College is also an important partner in what Hanley considers a key piece of the textbook affordability puzzle. “You could develop the best options available, but if no one knows about them, or doesn’t think there’s value there, you’re not going to be successful,” he explains.
Hanley believes campus bookstore managers play a key role in communicating to campus leaders the available affordable learning programs, such as digital, used and rental textbook options, and assisting with 508 Compliance issues to ensure all students can get access to a quality education. “Working with faculty to help them understand what those options are through efforts like affordable solutions workshops and demonstrations on how students can integrate their learning processes with their e-reader platforms — that’s invaluable,” he says.