The Impact of Textbook Costs on Student Retention and Persistence

Posted by Jonathan Shar on May 13, 2015

“Colleges are scrutinized more than ever before over student outcomes”
Robert Pignatello, SVP of Finance and Administration at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The focus on student retention and persistence is growing in importance to college administrators as they try to improve graduation rates and decrease the loss of tuition revenue from students that either drop out or transfer to another school. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Center for Education Statistics, only 50% of those who enter higher education actually earn a bachelors degree. The reasons range from family problems and loneliness to academic struggles - and as the total cost of eduction has increased in the US, so has student attrition. 

In the 2015 College CFO Survey on Textbook Affordability and Bookstore Services, we asked participants if the increasing prices of textbooks played a role in student persistence and retention on their campus.  

96% of respondents indicated that the high cost of textbooks and course materials had an impact on student retention and persistence. This is up 8% from the study published in 2013, with respondants stating “Very Much” increasing by 13% in just two years. 


Source: CFO survey on Textbook Delivery and Bookstore Services. Akademos, 2015.

The study indicates that reducing textbook costs can not only have a positve impact on student satisfaction, but may have a significant financial impact for colleges and universities by helping improve student completion and retaining more tution revenue.

“This was a big factor for us in terms of convincing our faculty to abandon the traditional brick and mortar store and move to a virtual (student savings) format," Pignatello noted on the webinar.  

To learn more about key trends and predictions on the future of textbook sales and campus bookstore services, the full presentation and recording of our "2015 College CFO Survey on Textbook Affordability and Bookstore Services” webinar session is now available for free download. 

Click here to request webinar materials

Topics: Webinars & Events, Research, Textbook Affordability

Why Textbook Rentals Are On The Rise

Posted by Jonathan Shar on May 11, 2015

Two years ago, Akademos published the first comprehensive survey of College CFOs regarding the future of college bookstore and textbook services and in an exclusive webinar held on April 29, released the preliminary findings of the 2015 follow-up study.

In both, participants were asked to estimate the breakdown of their bookstore's textbook sales.

The latest survey found that on average, new books still represent the largest % of textbook sales; however in just two years this percentage has declined significantly (now 38%, down from 52%) - with Rentals growing by more than 60% (from 14% to 23% in 2015).

rental_compSource: CFO Survey on Textbook Delivery and Bookstore Services. Akademos, 2015. 

In addition, in another survey question when asked about the importance various services to the "Future of your Bookstore"; 73% rated Rentals as "Very Important," up 26% from the 2013 study.

Textbook Rentals are clearly on the rise, but why and is it the most cost-conscious choice for students? Robert Pignatello, SVP of finance and Administration at CUNY’s John Jay college and Akademos CEO John Squires addressed this topic during the webinar.

“The net ownership cost of textbooks is a key consideration,” commented Squires.“Often, rentals have a lower up-front cost to the student but can be more expensive long term.”

Pignatello agreed, saying “we [college administrators] have an obligation to look at the total cost of ownership, and to help our students make the right choice. Often times, buying a used book and selling it will cost less than renting.” 

To learn more about key trends and predictions on the future of textbook sales and campus bookstore services, the full presentation and recording of our "2015 College CFO Survey on Textbook Affordability and Bookstore Services” webinar session is now available for free download. 

Click here to request webinar materials

Topics: Bookstore Sales, Research

Why Campus Bookstore Textbook Sales Continue to Decline (According to College CFOs)

Posted by Jonathan Shar on May 7, 2015

Two years ago, Akademos published the first comprehensive survey of college CFOs regarding the future of college bookstore and textbook services - and in an exclusive webinar held on April 29, released the highlights of the eagarly aniticpated 2015 follow-up study

In both surveys,participants were asked to estimate the trend line in their bookstore's textbook sales over the past 3 years.

In the latest survey, 91% of respondents indicated textbook sales have been flat or down over the past three years and in just two years there was a 36% increase in CFOs reporting declines of more than 10%. 

Source: CFO survey on Textbook Delivery and Bookstore Services. Akademos, 2015. 

the survey data reviewed during the webinar provides some valuable insight into why sales declines have accelerated and why they are likely to continue to decline in the future. 

Robert Pignatello, SVP of finance and Administration at CUNY’s John Jay College shared some valuable insights on this topic as one of the featured speakers during the webinar and commented on his own expereince and observations:   

"We started to think about providing low-cost options to students and re-thinking the traditional way of viewing the college store," recalls Pignatello. We began to build up other areas of revenue producing activity at the college, knowing this trend was going to continue. In a few short years we saw [textbook sales] go down by 50%, and it continued to go down."

To learn more about key trends and predictions on the future of textbook sales and campus bookstore services, the full presentation and recording of our "2015 College CFO Survey on Textbook Affordability and Bookstore Services” webinar session is now available for free download.
Click here to request webinar materials

Topics: Bookstore Sales, Research

2015 College CFO Survey on Textbook Services: Webinar Recap and Materials Available

Posted by Jonathan Shar on April 30, 2015

Yesterday we were joined by Robert Pignatello, SVP Finance and Administration at CUNY’s John Jay College and John Squires, CEO of Akademos for an informative and lively "2015 College CFO Survey on Textbook Affordability and Bookstore Services” Webinar. If you were unable to join us for this discussion we wanted to make the presentation and recording of the session available for you to download free by clicking here.


The feedback from attendees has been extremely positive.  Most participants found the survey results and commentary on the trends and future of textbook services extremely relevant and informative.

Three years ago Akademos completed the first comprehensive survey of college CFOs regarding the future of bookstore services and this informative webinar provided a first look at the results of the just completed follow-up study addressing critical issues and key trends, including:  

  • Trends in campus bookstore textbook sales
  • The percentage of students leaving their school-sanctioned bookstore and why
  • The number of students not purchasing required materials and why
  • The impact of textbook costs on student success, persistence and retention
  • How bookstore services need to change to meet the demands for new learning models

See how these and other important questions begin to be addressed in this special webinar.

Click here to request webinar materials

If you have any other questions or would like to learn more about expanding affordable textbook options for your students and our innovative textbook and course materials adoption tools for faculty and administrators, we would be happy to set-up a personalized 1:1 consultation today.

Topics: Webinars & Events, Research

The Changing Role of the College Bookstore

Posted by Jonathan Shar on April 21, 2015

The college bookstore services landscape has been radically transformed over the last few years as students, faculty and administrators are increasingly concerned about the escalating costs of textbooks. Colleges are now searching for new solutions to lower costs and support their core mission of educating students.


In the begining of 2013, Akademos published the first comprehensive survey of college CFOs regarding the future of bookstore services. One question participants were asked to address was their opinion on the primary role of the bookstore.  

Overwhelmingly, College CFO's (80% of them) chose providing textbooks as the bookstore's central objective.


See how the opinion of CFOs throughout the country has now changed when Akademos reveals its first look at the recently completed follow-up study on the trends and future of textbook services during our live webinar.

Learn what leading college CFOs think about the evolving bookstore model and hear from one such leader, Robert Pignatello, on how John Jay College reimagined the college bookstore for the 21st century. This special webinar will prove helpful to college administrators across the country facing these and other related challenges.

Click here to request webinar materials

The discussion, lead by John Squires, CEO of Akademos along with Robert Pignatello, SVP Finance and Administration at CUNY’s John Jay College provides insightful commentary on the key findings.



Topics: Research, New Bookstore Models

New Student PIRGs Survey Confirms High Textbook Costs Impact Course Selection and Student Success

Posted by Kirk Bodick on February 11, 2014

If you’re not aware of the work of the U.S. PIRG Education Fund & The Student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups), you should be.  Among other initiatives, they focus efforts on making higher education more affordable.

They’ve recently released a new study on the textbook market and the rising impact of cost to students.

I’ve included a link to their study below, but here are a few of the items in the report that jumped out to me:

  • The cost of textbook and course materials continues to rise; the average student today spends up to $1,200 per year.
  • High textbook costs impact a student’s decision on whether or not to purchase textbooks for a course. Sixty-five percent of all students decide to not to buy a textbook for at least one of their courses.  This decision will also play into their academic preparedness and success.
  • Just as troubling, nearly 50% of the students surveyed indicated that textbook costs influence which and how many courses they take.
  • Used textbook and rental purchases help mitigate costs, but the proliferation of new editions drive up pricing for these solutions as well.
  • There continues to be strong student interest in utilizing Open Education Resources/Textbooks for their courses via electronic access with optional print purchase, as they can potentially save a student $100 per course.  In an effort to make OER materials more widespread, the study includes a call to action for faculty to consider the use of OERs for their courses.

These are just some of the key findings in the recent Student PIRGs report.  I urge you to read it for yourself and share your thoughts with me. The full report can be found at: http://studentpirgs.org/reports/sp/fixing-broken-textbook-market

You can also check out our recent survey of college presidents, provosts, and chief academic officers to see how institutional textbook affordability initiatives positively impact student retention, persistence and satisfaction. This report can be found under White Papers on our Resources page.

Topics: Research, Textbook Affordability

Learn how to lower textbook costs while increasing student and faculty satisfaction at your school bookstore

Posted by John Squires on December 12, 2013

We are pleased to announce that our college President, Provost, and CAO survey on textbook trends is now complete!

What did we find? Schools with textbook affordability programs report lower textbook costs, as well as higher student and faculty satisfaction with textbook costs.

The bad news? Only 16% of schools surveyed reported having a formal textbook affordability program.

The good news? Our report includes some simple tips for starting and/or optimizing a textbook affordability program at your school.

Below are some additional key findings:

  • 93% of respondents agree that textbook costs impact retention and persistence/completion.
  • The majority of faculty and students are dissatisfied with textbook prices.
  • Obstacles to reducing textbook costs included the perception that publisher prices are increasing, that no one person or department is accountable, and that faculty don’t consider price in selecting appropriate texts.

As you may recall, in our CFO Survey on Textbook Delivery and Bookstore Services, 89% of respondents confirmed that students were leaving the campus-based bookstore to shop elsewhere.  High cost is the leading factor that’s driving students away.

A big thank you to our 500 participants for their time and feedback- we couldn’t have done it without you. If you were unable to participate in our last survey – email us! We’d love to hear your opinion on textbook delivery and the future of bookstore services.

You can download the executive summary white paper from our Resources page.

Topics: Research, Textbook Affordability

Why Students are Leaving the College Bookstore (According to College CFOs)

Posted by Jen Slemp on April 24, 2013

As an education technology company that provides online bookstore services to schools and their students, Akademos has always had anecdotal information from clients and students regarding the changing landscape for textbook services. We sought to validate the concerns that college chief financial officers (CFOs) had expressed to us about the future of their textbook services given the challenges presented by a vast marketplace of external competition, and the requirements of meeting new digital delivery needs presented by growing online curriculum.

Thus, we commissioned the first comprehensive survey of college CFOs regarding the future of bookstore services, with the results published in March 2013 here in a white paper. Here is a snapshot of some key findings:

  • 89% of respondents confirmed that students are increasingly turning away from campus-based bookstores in favor of third-party providers, citing, on average, 28% of students are shopping elsewhere.
  • Respondents pointed to price as the primary reason students bypass the college bookstore (78%), with students' inclination to purchase online a distant second (12%).
  • Survey respondents indicated that on average, 56% of textbook sales are transacted with financial aid.
  • Respondents ranked giving students access to high-quality, low-cost textbooks as the most important service institutions can provide regarding the sale of textbooks.
  • 88% believe textbook costs impact student retention and persistence.
  • 82% indicated that textbook sales have been flat or down over the past three years.
  • 18% stated they believe textbooks will be sold exclusively in a school online bookstore, while 80% are of the opinion that their school will utilize both an online and brick-and-mortar store.

Overall, textbook delivery and bookstore services are only now becoming a prominent issue for CFOs (the topic doesn't even come up on previous surveys about CFOs' general responsibilities). This rise in priority is likely due in part to increasing attention to the costs vs. outcomes of higher education from students and their families, accreditation committees, and the government (e.g., HEOA). The question becomes whether the competitive and technical challenges of serving student-needs in an increasingly online world can be met by the current model, particularly by college bookstores that sell textbooks in a brick-and-mortar environment.

Competition from online, third-party providers is of major concern for the viability of the textbook business at campus bookstores. Students are leaving the school-sanctioned bookstore because of better pricing elsewhere, and this loss of customers is driving schools to more closely examine their textbook affordability, both for business reasons—revenue from textbooks appears to be in decline—and for educational reasons—charging students exorbitant mark-ups on course materials to help fund school initiatives is becoming an increasingly questionable practice in higher education.

Below is a summary of top outcomes and analysis from our survey on textbook delivery and bookstore services.


Textbook costs impact retention and persistence

The impact of college affordability on student outcomes such as retention, persistence and completion is becoming more evident, particularly in those programs where the cost of textbooks could exceed the cost of the course.

The majority of CFOs (89%) indicated textbooks costs do have some impact on retention and persistence. Given students are reporting that they do not buy all of their required books for a course, and graduation rates are tied to accreditation and other funding, textbook costs are joining tuition and fees as a potential cause of attrition.


Students are shopping outside the school-sanctioned bookstore for textbooks—predominantly choosing third-party, online retailers

Whether you are a college CFO, a faculty member, a student or parent, or just a member of the general public, you likely recognize that students are shopping online in order to find lower cost textbook prices.

Most CFOs (89%) confirmed that students are indeed shopping for textbooks outside of the school bookstore. What percentage of students shopping outside the school bookstore is too much? We think that is, and will continue to be, a central question in bookstore services. If you are a CFO reading this, do you know how many student customers are buying their books at your bookstore and how many are leaving?

CFOs in our survey reported that on average, 28% of their students are shopping elsewhere. Yet in the recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), between 25% and 33% of students reported not even buying required textbooks. So who is shopping at the school bookstore for their texts (see Financial Aid point below in this post)? In our experience, the portion of students perceived as shopping outside the bookstore is under-reported. The majority of schools are either not tracking this data, or not analyzing this data in an actionable way. Additionally, one-on-one feedback from school administrators across the country in the last year actually points to the contrary—that less than 30% of students are shopping in the school-sanctioned bookstore for textbooks. This discrepancy is surely a challenge to be reconciled by schools and their bookstore providers.

Further, a follow-up focus group indicated an interest in understanding how many of those students are purchasing the majority of their books at the school bookstore.


Cost is the biggest issue chasing students away

It is likely no surprise that respondents pointed to price as the dominant reason (79%) for students shopping elsewhere, with the belief that students are more inclined to purchase online as a distant second (12%). When you put these together, it confirms an overall trend we have heard from administrators and students alike: Students are increasingly buying textbooks on third-party websites because they can find better deals there than at the school bookstore. And, again, it is no surprise that school bookstores are experiencing challenges competing when you consider the costs of running a brick-and-mortar with limited or local inventory vs. an online operation with national inventory.


Access to high-quality, low-cost textbooks is the most important service schools can provide

The "most important service schools can provide students regarding the sale of textbooks," as ranked by 53.5% of respondents, is to provide "access to high-quality, low-cost textbooks."

Additionally, in the open-ended answers, textbook affordability was listed as the second most-cited concern about bookstore services (after staying competitive).


Used books are the most important resource to the future of schools' bookstores

When asked to rank resources such as new, used, digital, rental, and OER (Open Educational Resources) in order of importance to the future of the school's bookstore, nearly 80% of respondents ranked used books as number one. It is interesting to note that a majority of CFOs rated both supplying used books and supplying rentals as very important, yet revenue from new books is still outpacing that from both of these categories combined.


Financial aid, designed to assist financially-challenged students, is actually leading them to the most expensive options for textbooks

On average, new books make up approximately half of all textbook sales at respondents' school bookstores. New books are also the students’ most expensive option. If our neediest students buy elsewhere, they are forgoing their aid. But, if they buy at the school bookstore, they are likely spending more than they need to on textbooks. This Catch-22 is contributing to both the rising student debt burden and mounting budgetary pressures on financial aid.


In the face of competition, schools still believe they will be in the business of selling textbooks out of a brick-and-mortar in the coming years

This might be the most surprising outcome of the survey. A majority of CFOs believe that their school will continue to sell books at their brick-and-mortar bookstore. Only 18% of college CFOs believe textbooks will be sold solely online. It is particularly surprising given CFOs recognize that cost is the biggest issue chasing students away, and that financial aid is binding students to shop at stores where costs are less competitive than online alternatives.

How feasible is it for schools to balance textbook pricing for their online bookstore and their brick-and-mortar store, particularly without unnecessarily inflating prices for students?

When the responses were posed to a focus group following the survey, some cited long-term contracts for brick-and-mortar services and the inability to consider alternative options until those contracts expire. The question then becomes, if the bookstore is not competitive in current times, how will long-term contracts affect schools' ability to keep up with changing trends and technologies five or ten years into the future?


Staying competitive is a top business concern

What are CFOs' top concerns in their own words? The open-ended answers revealed a consistent set of issues relating to textbook delivery/college bookstores, but staying competitive was the top cited issue.


What Can You Do? Best Practices Bookstore Services Audit

If you wish to further examine the issue of textbook affordability at your school, what can you do? We recommend starting with an audit of your bookstore practices, taking into consideration how the economic model is changing as well as how student preparedness affects overall student academic performance. We have put together the Akademos Textbook Affordability Best Practices Audit to assist you with evaluating both the health and the mission of your textbook practices. As always, you can also reach out to us directly to have a conversation about your textbook delivery mission and practices.

Topics: Research

College CFO Survey on Textbooks in Bookstores

Posted by Jen Slemp on April 1, 2013

What do CFOs think about the future of textbooks sold in college bookstores? Our 2013 College CFO Survey on Textbook Delivery and Bookstore Services has been completed and posted to our resources webpage. Check out the summary in our Textbook Delivery infographic below. Or download the full report.


Topics: Research

Infographic: Students Want OER and eBooks

Posted by John Squires on September 24, 2012

Check out this new infographic from Inside Higher Ed summarizing an EDUCAUSE student survey study about technology in coursework. Take aways for us here at Akademos and TextbookX? Students want more technology in their coursework, including Open Educational Resources and eBooks.


Topics: Research