A frequent point of contention between students and their school is course material affordability. Students want better prices, but their expenses keep going up. Often the cost-savings battle is fought on all fronts with each side of the issue squared off into their own corner, but what if it didn’t have to be?
Scott Heiman, bookstore manager at Madison College, recently took a different approach to the ongoing debate. The Student Senate for Madison College’s Truax campus identified textbook cost reduction, academic advising, instructor and course assessments, and commuter services as their main focuses. A poll was created to determine which one of their four initiatives was most important to the student body. Not surprisingly, decreasing the costs of course materials was at the top with 45% of the vote.
With the growing student concern, Heiman asked to attend the Student Affairs Council meeting to explain the situation from the campus store’s point of view and share his knowledge about the industry. After all, students, faculty, administration and the bookstore all want to achieve the same goal: reduce student costs.
“The main thing I wanted to bring to their attention was the list of steps we as a bookstore had taken over the last 10 years to lowers costs and help the students save money,” Heiman said.
He presented the ways the Madison College campus store had taken cost-saving initiatives to benefit students—reducing mark up, partnering with MBS to offer more used books and taking advantage the MBS Rentals Program. A channel of communication between the students and the bookstore was opened and it changed the way the subject discussed.
“When I was done speaking, that very first day, they all had wide eyes and a bit of a dropped jaw and said ‘we had no idea,’” Heiman said. “We had no idea the things you were already doing and the things you are trying currently. It was the start of teamwork rather than what had been going on before with a he said/she said type thing.”
Before Heiman attended the student meetings, he didn’t have an opportunity to add the bookstore’s voice to the topic. He expected much of the outside community didn’t fully understand the behind-the-scenes of the campus store. Key factors in lowering out-of-pocket costs for students were common in his everyday life, but not in theirs.
“I’m not sure we could do the rentals as we are doing them now without the help of MBS,” Heiman said. “The MBS system allows us to do the financial aid book charge program through our website and that’s a huge piece of what we are doing here.”
Practices such as early adoptions, choosing used or rental books, and being able to use the student financial aid voucher payment option to purchase course materials have given his store ways to address cost concerns.
Not only were the students appreciative of the expertise he brought to the meeting, they now have a better understanding of the challenges in providing affordable course materials. Prior to the meeting, many of them believed the campus store set the prices and determined what books or materials were required for their classes. Heiman was able to explain how pricing works and who determines what textbooks are necessary for a class. By simply engaging, explaining and listening, he has been able to break down some of the “them verses us” barriers. A couple of students pulled him aside after the meeting to thank him for sharing information and bringing a completely different perspective.
“They were very receptive. We’ve gotten to a point where they are part of the team,” he said.
The most important piece of advice Heiman can give to other stores facing similar situations is to go to that first meeting and start a foundation for teamwork between the different points of view. Heiman advises to be prepared to share the steps your store has already taken in establishing cost-saving practices and then be open to hearing other ideas.
“You reduce your mark up and you do a rental program,” he said. “You provide more used books, you increase your buyback and you share all those things they don’t know. Try to get in front of the Student Senate or the Student Affairs Council if they are looking into bookstore issues. You need to be there.”