It’s perhaps in the nature of any busy organization that often-times goals and opportunities become lost in the day-to-day bustle of business. It’s a prospect that the State University of New York at Delhi seems quick to avoid, and where we caught up with its Provost, Dr. John Nader, shortly after the start of the new semester. “One of the great advantages of this institution is that we don’t necessarily have those divisions between various schools, program areas and functional areas of the college — academics works well with student life, student life works well with facilities — and overall, I think we did a nice job getting our students prepared for the start of classes,” he says.
Nestled in the Catskill Mountains, overlooking the village of Delhi, the campus imbues a sense of inclusion, continually improving and upgrading facilities as part of a multi-year capital plan, and at the same time, building meaningful connections within its community. It’s a successful formula that is working well as part of the university’s overall mission and achieving particularly notable results in one central area of the school’s activities — the campus bookstore.
A key campus partner since 2008, the relationship with the Barnes & Noble College managed bookstore has recently begun to bear considerable fruit at SUNY Delhi, as the result of a series of outreach projects. “It’s begun to flourish because of the increased cooperation between the College Association, the academic side of the house and bookstore, with the greater campus community, which the bookstore has always served very well,” Nader explains.
Many of those initiatives came as the result of Barbara Jones accepting her current role as Vice President for Student Life. “In the past, the bookstore worked mainly through the auxiliary, the difference now is as a result of stronger partnerships with the college — both with academic and student affairs,” she notes. With a primary focus on the academic success of the partnership, the bookstore’s influence has been very noticeable in working with faculty.
With a student body of close to 3,500, Delhi’s online community accounts for a crucial third of that enrollment, with the largest online group represented in nursing. To build an extra connection to that community, the bookstore launched a promotion including a SUNY Delhi tote bag as an incentive for bookstore sales, which also realized additional sales. “There has been a particularly productive partnership with the development of an outreach program for our online students,” Nader explains. Bookstore Manager Julie Fetzer, an alumna of SUNY Delhi and former bookseller, agrees, “Our online program serves many nursing students. With many classes revolving every 7 weeks, it’s critical to partner with the Nursing Department to ensure that we can provide everything our online students need.”
Nader also points out that the bookstore has played a role in supporting the faculty as well. In addition to Barnes and Noble College sponsorship of a faculty author series and academic honors for students, the store also initiated a ‘Book Check’ coupon program as a stronger incentive for faculty to come into the store and check on the completeness of their book orders. “It’s through opportunities like these that the bookstore has really helped raise the academic profile of both students and staff,” he says, adding that those connections are supported by frequent email communications and follow-ups from the Provost’s Office.
While the store is regularly in attendance at Deans’ Council meetings and the school’s division meetings and campus-wide auxiliary gatherings, Jones says that the sense of outreach has been most visible at the bookstore itself. “There were a series of VIP pre-rush nights at the bookstore, which included special presentations to student groups,” she notes. “Athletics, in particular, has been another great partner for the bookstore where we’ve had a very successful program in place for the purchase and distribution of team shirts,” she adds.
The bookstore has also engaged in enhanced marketing and improved communications regarding bus ticket sales at the store. “It’s a good service — the development of concierge service — and the promotion of sale items for the large numbers of students purchasing bus tickets at the bookstore,” Jones says.
These new approaches have enabled the bookstore to be fully engaged and able to seek broader input and feedback from across the campus. In a truly reciprocal relationship, they’ve reaped rewards for the campus, students, and bookstore equally.
The rate of sales growth has exceeded enrollment growth, and the percentage of online purchases has steadily increased. Academically, there has been an 85 percent textbook adoption rate, with 87 percent of faculty adopters utilizing the bookstore’s FacultyEnlight online platform. Meanwhile, the percentage of students using the Registration Integration System for advance textbook purchasing has grown five-fold since 2014. Most importantly, student satisfaction ratings increased significantly on the spring SUNY-wide Student Opinion Survey. Not that those improvements have prompted any kind of complacency at Delhi.
Despite the benefits and the results coming from closer cooperation and inclusion, the overwhelming impression is that the enhanced bookstore partnership has just started. Provost Nader is hoping for an expanded internship program in conjunction with the Business Management program, further continuation of the BIG (Bookstore Innovation Group) meetings, and the establishment of the Management Development Program for SUNY Delhi graduates, along with the bookstore’s co-sponsorship support for the campus literary magazine, Agate. “We’re a pretty cohesive group,” Nader points out. “We talk to each other, and that can only support a stronger connection with the campus and better results for our students.”