Per-credit model, closure of bookstore: WU admin explore options
In the aftermath of the textbook debacle that started the fall semester of 2023, Willamette University's administration has started to reevaluate the model our current bookstore uses on campus, determining if there is a necessity for the store at all, or if alternative models may fit the needs of the students more.
Anne Gallagher, associate vice president of budget and facilities, emphasized that 70% of students order their textbooks from different outlets than the university bookstore. Gallagher explained that the current bookstore model “is not really a feasible model for most universities and part of the reason why is because a large portion of the textbook volume has left the university and has been sent to Amazon and Chegg and all the other textbook providers in the marketplace. That makes the traditional bookstore model very difficult to run profitably.” In this context, textbook volume refers to the total amount of textbooks the bookstore sells.
One of the proposed bookstore models the university is considering is the Barnes & Noble First Day Complete Program, an equitable access program where textbooks are offered to students for a flat fee per credit hour. Bill Smaldone, professor of history and former faculty president for the College of Arts and Science, was told the proposal was for $22 per credit, meaning that if a student were to take a four credit course at the University, the cost of books through the bookstore would be $88, despite whatever the real monetary value of the books were. In addition to this, the $88 would be applied to all of the textbooks required for a course, whether that number is one book or seven books.
Smaldone is a huge proponent of keeping university bookstores alive and is in favor of an opt-in model. “Our bookstores has been on life support for a long time. It costs universities a lot of money every year just to open the doors. At the time people talked about [it] costing us something like $50,000 a year to run the bookstore. Barnes and Noble promised that if we moved to this system and a certain percentage of the students adopted it, something like 75% or 80%, [the cost would be reduced].” With this system, students would fully have to opt in or out, meaning that the students who choose to opt out would not be able to purchase textbooks from the bookstore for that semester.
With the new model, Smaldone emphasized that there could be a solution for the “kinds of equipment that are not covered by the Barnes and Noble arrangement. There are ways in which the university could use some of the surplus that they generate to pay for those items in courses where non-book supplies are needed. So in other words, it would be an in-house subsidy, which we do … all the time.”
Essentially, students who choose to opt in to the program but don’t require textbooks for the term can move that money elsewhere to purchase other items they need. This could look like a biology student purchasing a microscope, or a department using this surplus to purchase items required for an entire course. This solution is currently being discussed, but isn’t set in stone.
When asking students their opinions regarding the First Day Complete Program, there were varying concerns. Tyler Dickinson (‘26), a Politics, Policy, Law and Ethics and sociology double major, said, “I think that this is potentially a good model for the bookstore to adopt. It would make some of the much more expensive textbooks more affordable to students, and for those classes where the professors already try to mitigate costs by picking cheaper texts, students always have the option of buying from other sources for the cheaper price.” He presented the concern that the inherent difficulties of this model would mean “a lot of students would sacrifice the convenience of the bookstore for a cheaper price.”
Ava Merritt (‘26), a biochemistry major, said that this model isn’t a “one-size-fits-all solution for courses, because in my experience, some of the books in my department the professors collectively write for the class, [for] which they usually charge $30 or so. … I think the textbook model would interfere with that system.” While she expressed similar concerns for pricing as Dickinson, Merritt also was concerned about “online homework sources like Expert TA. How would those be incorporated in the system? If a student wants to pay $88 and have [the resource] … included into their overall textbook cost, then that could be another benefit instead of having to pay [for] it separately.”
Gallagher mentioned that while the programs offered by Barnes and Noble are currently being considered, there are other variations of this model that might be better suited for the student body at Willamette. When asked if all variations will have a similar structure on a per-credit basis, Gallagher said, “There's some that are per the material. With some models you can, based on your budget and your needs, select various models. So they're not all this model that Barnes and Noble has. There's variations on that theme.”
However, another possible remedy that Gallagher has mentioned is closing the bookstore permanently, seeing that only 30% of students utilize the bookstore. “It's not like we'd be giving up the entire marketplace. So is there an option for Willamette to just have a continuous spirit store and a convenience store and things like that? Yeah. Is there any option to let students buy the books on their own? Yes. Are we considering that along with other options? Yes.” Regarding apparel, Gallagher said in a follow-up email, “One option in the university bookstore space is to move book sales totally online but continue to have a spirit store, where apparel is sold along with school supplies and convenience items. Apparel is currently available both in store and online, so that wouldn't change.”
Ultimately, it is important to note that the university is currently exploring its options in the bookstore space, continuing to investigate and inquire about each opportunity.