What do you get when you combine a declining retail footprint, reduced retail margin on thousands of materials, and lower prices? Would you believe the answer is more affordable textbooks and a thriving course materials business? That’s exactly what Kurt Kaiser and the team at the Colorado State University (CSU) Bookstore are experiencing. Their work to save students over $6 million in 2018 has captured lots of attention, including The Rocky Mountain Collegian and CTV 11, the CSU campus TV network.
I recently sat down with Kurt Kaiser, textbook manager at CSU, to talk about his store’s work to improve affordability and drive day-one access to learning materials.
Leann: Tell me about your strategies to drive down the cost of course materials for your students.
Kurt: We’ve done a lot to help students save money, including introducing a price comparison tool, Verba Compare™, on our website—which saved students over $30,000 in 2018—to offering book rentals, to expanding our Inclusive Access program, which saved students over $3.4 million in 2018. Our goal is to get learning materials to students in the best way possible and at the best price.
L: $3.4 million is a huge amount of savings. How many students are participating in your Inclusive Access program?
K: This spring alone we have more than 250 instructors teaching Inclusive Access sections. That works out to 97 different titles used in 406 sections, with a total of 23,680 unique course materials delivered at the lowest possible cost.
L: I heard your store is losing space to a new campus print shop. How is that impacting your store?
K: Yes, we’re losing 1,000 square feet of retail space to accommodate an on-campus print shop. Thanks to our Inclusive Access program—where materials are delivered digitally right inside the LMS—this isn’t going to hurt us because we’re saving so much shelf space. We’re also saving thousands in shipping and freight charges.
L: When we talked to you at the end of 2017, your Inclusive Access program had delivered about 9,000 total units. How did you grow to over 23,000 in only a year?
K: We’ve worked with faculty, our campus leadership, and publishers to get the word out about the program. When we present the program to instructors, they overwhelmingly say yes, they want to participate. For example, our psychology 100 professor loves Inclusive Access. It’s wonderful for her because it’s so easy for her students to get access to their required materials. She’s teaching 1,200 students and working with six TAs, and she doesn’t have to worry about whether everyone has the right learning materials. They are in the LMS from day one.
Once a course is enrolled in the Inclusive Access model, we give faculty a class-specific breakdown of the number of students participating and the total savings for their class. We want to make sure faculty feel like they are part of the savings mission and have something to take to their department chair to show how they are helping to lower costs.
L: How has leadership at CSU reacted to the work you’re doing to drive student savings?
K: Our vice president of Student Affairs sent the course materials savings information to the provost. He was impressed and insisted that our savings initiative was added to the campus newsletter. The provost also sends an email around toward the end of each semester to help faculty understand how the store is helping students save money.
L: Institutions across the country are looking at models like Inclusive Access to help students save money while also guaranteeing day-one access to course materials. Do you have any advice for other institutions or campus stores?
K: Reach out to your peers at other institutions. No matter what platforms or technology you use, if you can pick up one idea from someone who’s already done it, that’s a win. I also suggest getting in front of faculty to explain the program. Publisher representatives can help with this. It’s important to get buy-in from stakeholders on campus. Make them feel part of the program. Once you launch, make sure they feel like part of the program’s success, too.