In contrast to the excitement and heady anticipation of another new school year, educators also face another less attractive reality. According to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), of the more than 31 million students who have enrolled in the past 20 years, a third of these students dropped out of college before the start of their sophomore year.
As enrollments and student retention remain key concerns for university administrators and educators, Barnes & Noble College has strengthened its efforts to better understand the kinds of pressures and challenges students face, particularly pre-college and in the early years of their programs. “It’s become an increasingly important focus for us to understand the key stages of a student’s life through college as we develop our bookstores to be a greater source of support—it’s important that we identify any unmet need,” explains Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Consumer Marketing, Tamara Vostok. But what Vostok and her team found was that for today’s new students, college isn’t just a destination—it’s a journey.
Using research, Barnes & Noble College identified five key steps in the student’s college journey. Pre-acceptance, pre-college, life as a new student, campus life spanning the four or five years at school, and finally, graduation. “When it comes to helping our campus partners meet their enrollment and retention goals, it’s those first two steps in that journey that can be especially crucial,” Vostok says. “Pre-acceptance is a time when students are researching and applying to the schools they’re interested in attending and going on college tours—and it’s then the bookstore can play a critical role in their decision making,” she adds.
Vostok points to successive prospective student events hosted at the bookstore of campus partner Rutgers University. “The college traditionally registered less than 200 students at their events. Once the bookstore participated, we brought enrollments up to 500 and, last year, created 800 enrollments on the spot.” Showing the available support, along with the fun of campus life, Vostok believes pre-enrollment bookstore events can substantially help the student with making the right decision about the right college fit for them—which leads to the second important leg of the student’s journey; pre-college.
In that defining period between high school and college, students especially welcome trusted information, advice, and guidance to prepare them for campus life. Barnes & Noble College managed bookstores fill that information need with the highly successful Igniting the New Student Connection program, consisting of emails tied to milestone topics aligned with students’ preparation goals throughout the summer. “Our students have told us they need that college roadmap,” Vostok says. “They want to know every key milestone and what events they can anticipate and need to be prepared for.”
For Julia Buckingham, that additional information and guidance helped alleviate the uncertainties of preparing for her freshman year at Bucknell University. “The emails I received from the campus bookstore definitely eased my worries about starting college,” she says. “They helped make finding textbooks for class very easy, and with the cool college apparel and accessories, made me very excited about being part of Bucknell.”
As evidence of its success, the New Student Connection has added over 620,000 new students to the program and expanded its content to include topics as varied as Dorm DIYs, the Ultimate College Packing List and even how to get along with your roommate. ”We want to show our students that we’re their full-college support system, not just a retailer sending them advertisements around buying and shopping for textbooks,” Vostok points out.
Full-college support also extends to students once they arrive on campus. “The bookstore is awesome for college students,” says Buckingham. “They carry almost anything one would need for class—from toiletries to school supplies. I was lucky to get my own bathroom this year, and sure enough, the bookstore even supplied shower curtains. The staff has been very helpful in assisting me in finding what I need,” she says adding, “the bookstore also provides many Bucknell themed gifts, which I know my family will love—especially my dad, being an alumnus.”
An additional, and increasingly important platform for that support, also includes the bookstore’s mobile app, which offers additional convenience and functionality for the student such as in-aisle textbook shopping and the ability to provide instant feedback on their in-store experience.
That continuous student feedback has shown Barnes & Noble College students want that kind of supportive information well before their college journey has begun, with 79 percent of students wanting to hear from their bookstore the moment they are accepted, and 75 percent confirming their preference for a roadmap of their pathway to college, focused on important milestones. “It’s in these early stages that students really need and value that kind of information,” Vostok says, “and not only does that kind of support really help our campus partners with their enrollment and retention goals, it’s also going to support our students’ success throughout their entire college journey.”