A large part of the mission of a campus bookstore is to provide students with the course materials they need, in the format that works best for them and at the most affordable prices. But what other supportive role might the store play in its growing partnership with the campus, and how might that change the conversation on access and affordability to be much more than price alone? These issues were discussed at a recent University Business webcast under the heading of Beyond the Bottom Line – Driving Student Success through the Campus Bookstore, and some of the answers defined a different and more substantive role for the college store.
“It’s a topic close to us because we’re so very invested in partnering with our campus partners to ensure student success,” pointed out Lisa Malat, VP, Operations and Chief Marketing Officer at Barnes & Noble College in her opening remarks. Of the 5.3 million students and faculty served by the bookstores Barnes & Noble College manage, affordability of course materials has become of increasing concern as the cost of education continues to climb. Malat pointed out that Barnes & Noble College has played a key role in extending access and affordability for those audiences through a robust rental program, the increasing catalog of digital textbooks and integration of OER materials, which has represented student savings of some $1.5 billion over the past four years. But she also underscored the importance of understanding that the issue goes far beyond price alone, and that the company was quick to innovate and explore other tools and services the bookstore could provide. “We really see ourselves as an aggregator of all content, providing students and faculty with the ability to choose the content they want,” she said.
That philosophy has been guided by a customer research panel, and one solution that emerged from the research was a keen interest in expanding access to tutoring services with a strong preference for a peer-to-peer learning environment. “While students absolutely rely on, and look to, their faculty for extended academic support, when students are studying between midnight and four in the morning, access to those resources becomes an issue,” she explained. With constant demands on their time, Malat said that network of faculty respondents believed that a network of student tutors could be very beneficial, with 47 percent believing that online course-specific study materials could be useful to help their students’ success in the classroom.
That insight has led Barnes & Noble College to a partnership with Luvo, a peer-to-peer learning platform, to help support and improve academic outcomes. “At the core of Luvo is a student-to-student study materials marketplace, with the ability for students to get the information they need, in the format and in the methodology that works best for them,” Mike Matousek, CEO & Founder of Luvo, explained on the webcast. “The partnership with Barnes & Noble College, in this mission, is how we can drive value for students by complementing and reinforcing that in-classroom experience and really bring the required coursework experience to life,” he added.
Matousek cautioned that in a large classroom environment, an unprepared student could be destined for failure, and that Luvo offered a solution different in approach to many other supplemental study aid providers. “We want to be part of the academic umbrella to drive value, not only for our students, but for our faculty and campus partners, and by being more engaged and providing that highly relevant course specific content that will help students keep up,” he said.
And keeping students engaged is not only paramount to their success, it’s also critical to the success of the academic institution. Student completion rates have become a key issue in higher education — with attrition and course abandonment representing a real and present threat. Matousek pointed to a recent study of over 2,000 universities where the average tuition revenue lost due to the increased drop-off rate was $16 million. Providing an additional learning opportunity like Luvo, the campus bookstore is offering access to another valuable and affordable resource to support student outcomes.
Throughout the University Business webcast, many opportunities were discussed to illustrate ways Barnes & Noble College bookstores are working in collaboration with their campus partners on strategies designed to drive and build lasting relationships throughout a student’s college life.
Not all of these initiatives were purely academic solutions, but included additional services like the highly successful Career Now program, which, working with schools’ career centers, provides students with a stronger platform for employment success after college.” The pressure of driving successful student outcomes for our campus partners is intense,” Malat said, “and for us, it’s about understanding the different needs of our audiences and providing students, faculty and administration with a social and academic resource and hub on campus.”
Malat also pointed to research the company has recently initiated into the next generation of students — Generation Z — who will bring with them the characteristics of questioning the value of everything around them, including the value of a university education. That strong predilection for self-learning and online learning models has led to initiatives such as Luvo, and the additional opportunities for partnerships the college bookstore can bring to the campus.
“We want to support all of those academic aspirations,” Malat said, “and everything we do is aligned with those goals. We feel our true purpose is to be so much more than a bookstore, and more of a strategic partner and ally to the students, to the faculty and to the college administrations we serve.”