Changes considered for textbook rental
April 21, 2011
The UW-River Falls administration is considering turning Textbook Services over to a private company, a move that could save the University money.
The proposal, spearheaded by Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gregg Heinselman, was brought before the Faculty Senate April 12 and generated many questions regarding the impact on students and faculty.
The uncertainties prompted the senate to refer the issue to the Learning Resources Committee so that it can research the issue in more depth, said Chair of the Political Science Department Wes Chapin.
The committee, chaired by Magdalena Pala, will be meeting with the Library Director Valerie Malzacher, who oversees textbook services, Friday so it can learn how Textbook Services operates.
One of seven textbook rental services of its kind in the UW-System, textbook services operates solely from student fees, program revenue and money from used book sales. Every semester, a $71.65 fee is deducted from every undergraduate student’s tuition and goes towards textbook services operational budget, Malzacher said.
The most expensive expenditure for textbook services is the buying of textbooks, which can cost around $650,000 a year, and payroll, which is around $150,000 Malzacher said. Other expenditures include utilities, office supplies and maintenance. The annual operational budget is $900,000, Heinselman said.
A reserve account is in existence and helps cushion the times when there is a high volume of book purchases, said Interim Manager Jacky Olson. The account also provided funding when Textbook Services moved from the library into Hagestad Hall.
Considered an auxiliary entity, like food services and the residence halls, Textbook Services must keep a reserve that equals 15 percent of the operation budget, Heinselman said.
Textbook Services reserve has more than 15 percent because the previous manager, Virgil Monroe, ran it efficiently and frugally, Heinselman said. If Textbook Services is operated privately, the excess reserve would be re-invested in other resources, he said.
The textbook rental system, whether it is publicly or privately operated, is lauded by the UW-System Board of Regents because it keeps costs low for students, Malzacher said.
Monroe was also a proponent of the textbook rental system and showed his admiration by speaking to a House of Representatives subcommittee in 2004 about the efficiencies and cost benefits of such a business model.
UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire are the only universities within the system that have privatized textbook services, Malzacher added.
UW-La Crosse converted Textbook Services over to a private company, Follett, in 2009 and their policy serves as a model for the UWRF administration, said Heinselman.
The administration was given the opportunity to examine Textbook Services after Monroe retired in December, Heinselman said. Monroe’s position was put back into a “pool” so the administration could review whether to fill the position with another Textbook Services Manager or use the position somewhere else, Heinselman said.
Heinselman, who was told by the Executive Cabinet to review Textbook Services, has already talked with Follett, who currently operates the Falcon Shop in the University Center.
A Follett representative said they would be more than willing to add Textbook Services onto the existing contract, Heinselman said.
Follett operates book stores at 850 other campuses across the country and Canada and therefore can buy books at cheaper prices than we can, Heinselman said.
UW-Lacrosse professor Charles Lee, who has chaired the Textbook Services Oversight Committee for the past two years, said that while a student survey expressed satisfaction with Follett operating Textbook Services, a survey of College of Liberal Studies faculty found extreme dissatisfaction with Textbook Services.
Debbie Veglahn, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance at UW-La Crosse said the administration is pleased with the Follett Higher Education Group
Pala, chair of the Learning Resources Committee, and Malzacher, Library Director, worry that students will end up paying more for their textbooks if a private company takes over the operation.
“Whatever form the management of textbook rental takes on campus, it will be the campus goal to keep it as affordable and effective as possible for students,” Malzacher said. “Faculty and students will have to continue to play a big role in helping to shape policy regarding the rental service.”