At this past Monday’s General Assembly meeting, university provost Walter Zakahi spoke before Student Senate regarding a Barnes & Noble program currently being considered by the administration.
The focus of Zakahi’s appearance was First Day Complete, a program created by Barnes & Noble two years ago to lower course material costs for undergraduate students. He stated that the university administration is currently discussing the program that could be adopted in fall 2023 if approved, and has reached out to three other universities that have used the program for several years with successful results. A decision on it reportedly must be made around graduation in May.
The provost wanted to collect feedback on the program from Student Senate, which he said he was “a little north of ambivalent” on, with his appearance at the meeting marking his first public outreach to students on the matter.
“I’m spending time talking with the different academic colleges and wanted to include [Student Senate] in the conversation about this and get some feedback from you,” Zakahi said.
Zakahi began by talking about how the program works. Barnes & Noble would average the cost of books across all full-time undergraduate students and deduce a set price per student credit hour. In a later questioning period, he said that the program’s effects on part-time students are currently unknown.
The set price reportedly would have been $23 for this semester based on the average credit hour amount of 15. Students wouldn’t have to pay less or more than this price based on their number of classes.
This price would be charged to each student through being worked into their tuition, reportedly so their financial aid could go towards it. As a result, students would be able to start their semester with all necessary books as rentals. Zakahi noted that the default format for textbooks is a digital book, but faculty can still select hard copies of books, and students can exchange poor-quality books for a different copy or version. The program would also be implemented university-wide, not giving students the ability to opt-in or out.
When explaining the advantages of the program, Zakahi said that it would allow students to start their semester with all of their books regardless of financial circumstances. He also vouched for the program’s direct tuition integration, as about 20 percent of Bradley students are eligible for Federal Pell Grants, which could indicate the percentage of students that would particularly benefit from the program.
Zakahi further drew from experience in communicating how students may not be able to afford books at the start of the semester.
“As a faculty member at other institutions, I have had students tell me that sometimes the decision is to eat or buy a book,” Zakahi said. “Obviously, I don’t want students to be in that situation.”
However, the provost also addressed the disadvantages of the program, namely that some students in a semester would subsidize book costs for other students by acquiring more expensive books. He also said that while it has not been seen yet at the three institutions Bradley administration has spoken to, inflation of book prices is another factor in consideration.
Zakahi then opened the floor to feedback from senators. He admitted that program discussions had not progressed enough for him to answer several asked questions, including whether the program would also cover access to platforms like Pearson or be used on only incoming students for the fall 2023 semester.
Recurring sentiments from senators that spoke were that both the average semester price for books (which comes out to $345) and fees through the program for misplacing multiple books would be significantly more than what students would pay normally.
From these points, senators vouched for the inclusion of an “opt-in/out” system for students or courses, to which Zakahi responded that as average book prices change radically, Barnes & Noble would likely not offer the program to Bradley if the system was in use.
To conclude, Zakahi acknowledged the opinions of the senators he heard from, noting that he wanted to represent Student Senate’s thoughts in further discussions on the program. He asked for a show of hands to see who would and wouldn’t be in favor among the organization; all senators raised their hands in opposition to the program.
“This is important information for me, and … I’ll share it with the president and with the CFO,” Zakahi said.
As of this writing, discussions regarding the First Day Complete program are not conclusive and still ongoing.