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Campus Culture and Graduation Rates: What Role Does the Campus Bookstore Play?

Posted by admin on 1/21/13 10:00 PM
Topics: college retail, college store stories, graduation

The following excerpt, from the article Campus Culture and Graduation Rates: What Role Does the Campus Bookstore Play?, was written by Jennifer Roland, freelance writer and author of The Best of Learning & Leading with Technology, and published on Edcetera. We think it offers great insight into importance of a college bookstore beyond simply providing necessary course materials. Take a look at this interesting information and share it with others on your campus. You can view the full article and all of the study's findings here.

According to recent data, there are strong correlations between campuses having independent bookstores and higher graduation rates among students.

In looking at graduation data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, you can find correlations between higher graduation rates and certain factors. One of these is the presence of an independent bookstore.

At public four-year institutions that self-reported their graduation data, the graduation rates were 2% higher at schools that run their own bookstores, rather than leasing bookstore operations to outside corporations. At a large public college like Ohio State, that’s nearly a thousand fewer students graduating.

The bump in graduation rates is even more striking at community colleges, where schools with self-operated bookstores reported more than double completion rates than schools whose bookstores are run by outside corporations. Following the math, a college like Houston Community College system, with more than 63,000 students, might see 8,000 fewer students graduate than a system with an independent bookstore.

Bookstore ownership, although strongly correlated with successful completion in the NCES data, is not the only factor useful in predicting graduation. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA looked at a range of college graduation rates and compared students on specific personal characteristics, such as:

  • whether they were the first in their family to attend college
  • whether they plan to work during school
  • self-assessments of their mental health
  • the process they went through in choosing their school

These characteristics, the study authors found, were better predictors of graduation rates than the traditional measures.


One of the most important factors in the HERI study was early research and planning based on cost. The cost of a college education is a critical factor in college choice and completion for most students, and the more prepared a student is for the realities of those costs, the more likely that student is to graduate.

Independent college stores can help keep costs down in a few ways, all of which can benefit students:

  • Operating as a not-for-profit, ensuring that the focus is on providing service and value before profit margins.
  • Offering price matching and dynamic pricing to stay competitive with other textbook outlets. Non-school-owned stores may need to get approval to run these types of programs, and approval from out of the area can take time.
  • Providing discounts to students and faculty.
  • Making yearly donations to the school.

Another important piece of the college graduation puzzle, according to Richard Wiscott, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colo., is the campus culture. Says Wiscott, a college will be successful in graduating more of its students when the entire campus community works to create “a direct link between what happens in the classroom and what happens out of the classroom. Whether it is co-curricular programming, community involvement, part time jobs, or social activities, the school must be explicit in making direct connections between how the students’ educational experience is helping them achieve longer term goals.”

David Hellman, a former member of the board of the Franciscan Shops, the not-for-profit organization that used to run the bookstore at San Franscisco State University (SFSU), can’t emphasize enough the importance of independent bookstores for students and faculty. His biggest argument for retaining an independent bookstore was the campus culture. Supporting local businesses is an important focus on his campus, he says, and an independently run campus bookstore was part of that culture. This type of store tends to offer a wide range of books and literature, not “just textbooks and sweatshirts” helping students enrich themselves beyond their coursework, continues. Since the SFSU bookstore was taken over by a corporation, Hellman concludes, “we don’t really have a bookstore on this campus anymore.”

A Holistic View

Wiscott, whose school has leased its bookstore operations to an outside corporation, cautions us not to treat graduation rates as the be all-end all item. Instead, he says, “retention can best be thought of as an indicator of what the school does best – creating a welcoming, respectful, rigorous, and holistic experience that prepares students for productive and meaningful careers.” And as we can see, an independent bookstore can be a crucial component of that holistic experience.

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