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HEOA Comes to the College Bookstore (1 May 09)


Among the hundreds of new regulations in the Higher Education Opportunity Act  (HEOA) passed by Congress in August 2008 are new mandates that require colleges – and more specifically college owned or operated bookstores – to publish the ISBN numbers and retail prices for textbooks, other trade titles, and related course materials that faculty recommend and students buy for classes.  The new HEOA mandates reflect, in part, Congressional concern, echoed in many state legislatures in recent years, about the rising cost of textbooks.   The ISBN mandate becomes operational in July 2010.

No question that the ISBN mandate will fuel changes already underway that affect how and where college students buy textbooks.  Student Monitor’s fall 2008 survey of full-time undergraduates reveals that 16 percent of undergraduates “bought most of their textbooks online,” up from 12 percent in fall 2007.  Additionally, Student Monitor reports that “the share of students who purchase most of their textbooks from their on-campus bookstore continues to trend down: fewer than six in ten students (57 percent) purchased most of their textbooks at their on campus book store,” compared to 64 percent in fall 2006 and down from 72 percent in fall 2005.

College bookstores are (for-profit) service organizations:  prior to the emergence of Internet book sellers a just over a decade ago, college students were largely a captive market for the (often one) campus book store, usually owned and operated by the college or university (or operated under contract on behalf of the college by an agent such as Barnes & Noble or the Follett Higher Education Group).  The money saving options were not where to buy (which store) but what to buy (new or used).   Until recently, for most students at most institutions, the primary source for new or used books and related course materials was the “college” store.

Enter the Internet.  As with other products and services, Internet merchants provide price and service competition for local providers, in this case college bookstores.  The emergence of Internet book merchants – initially Amazon, followed by web-based resellers specifically targeting college students such as BigWords, CampusBooks, TextBooks, and others – offered students new options: the Internet brought a new transparency to the prices of both new and used textbooks.  Case in point: in fall 2008 my daughter, a UCLA student, purchased a new accounting book from Amazon for $135 that the ASUCLA store was selling for $176.

There’s little argument that the HEOA mandate to publish ISBNs and retail prices brings a new transparency to the textbook market.  It facilitates the efforts of students to shop for books based on price.   Concurrently, the ISBN mandate poses new challenges for colleges, college stores, and the firms that operate college stores (and the store web sites) under contract.

Ahead of the regulations due later this year from ED, campus administrators, college store directors, and, yes, even campus attorneys are parsing the HEOA legislation (Section 133) and also reviewing bookstore operations, web sites, and current contracts to assess compliance issues.  For example, as reported by Theresa Rose, the CIO at Oakland University in Michigan in an recent EDUCAUSE CIO ListServe post, the campus counsel at Oakland recently rejected an ISBN–link-system solution incorporated into the campus portal provided by Barnes and Noble (B&N), the contract operator of the campus store for Oakland.  Campus counsel at Oakland ruled that the B&N link-solution  "is not legally acceptable [under HEOA] given that [the university’s] contract with Barnes and Noble does not obligate [B&N to provide the ISBN linking service]; hence, if [B&N] fail[s] to comply with the statute Oakland would have no one to point the proverbial finger at . . . if we did, [simply] saying that B&N screwed up is not a good defense to a claim that [the university] failed to comply with federal law."

No doubt campus counsel at other institutions may have different perspectives on the linking solutions provided by store operators.  Still, it is a safe bet that these contracts will  be carefully reviewed – and many will be revised – following the release of the regulations governing the ISBN mandate later this year.

While the new transparency that accompanies the publication of ISBNs may be good for Internet book sellers, it will also be a catalyst for new services that target college students and also colleges and universities. 

For example, Apple’s student-oriented iPhone ad broadcast during the NCAA Championship game on April 6, highlighted SnapTell, an iPhone app that supports “photo commerce:” take a picture of a book (including college textbooks) and the SnapTell app will link you to multiple web sites that sell the book. 

On the institutional side, Verba Software,  a Cambridge, MA firm launched by some recent Harvard grads, offers a simple application that links course reading lists, including ISBN and pricing information, within existing online course schedules. Verba has also developed a more expansive, integrated application that helps campuses compile the online course catalog, provides degree audit and course registration functions, collects the ISBNs mandated by HEOA, and offers students a price comparison service for course materials.

Internet book resellers that target college students and the textbook market proclaim that they save students money.   (Hey, Amazon saved me and my daughter $40 last fall!)  So we can expect the ISBN mandate to foster more competition between bricks and clicks  - the campus store on (or near the quad) vs. the on-screen Internet reseller.  The ISBN mandate will accelerate the demise of a once captive market - college students buying books and course materials at the local college bookstore.  

Many will applaud the increased competition because students will save bucks on books.  Still others who lament the decline of “community bookstores” to chain stores, big box stores, and Internet booksellers will also lament what may be the demise of campus stores, as they continue to lose the annuity-like revenue stream from textbooks and course materials that has been essential to their operations.

But let’s also acknowledge that the HEOA mandate to publish ISBNs will not resolve of the recurring complaints about (and some might add structural problems affecting) the suggested retail price of textbooks and course materials – and by extension the wholesale price of course materials.   Here other factors are at play that include accelerated updates to stem the used book market, the costs of developing ancillary materials for faculty and maintaining web sites for students and professors, routine and appropriate development and production costs, modest author royalties and, yes even a little profit.   Regardless of what I paid for my daughter’s accounting textbook last fall, these factors and others all affected the wholesale price that both Amazon and ASUCLA paid for the book assigned for my daughter’s accounting class.

Disclosure:   Amazon, Apple, Follett Higher Education Group, and Verba Software are corporate sponsors of The Campus Computing Project.

Campus Computing 2007: IT Crisis Management (12 Nov 2007)

The 2007 Campus Computing Survey data highlights the continuing challenge of IT crisis management across all sectors of higher education. Part of the challenge, of course, is that here as elsewhere with IT issues, the definitions and demands are always expanding. Because IT now touches almost everything, IT crisis management means not just computing and information technology issues but also, as we saw with the tragic events at Virginia Tech in spring 2007, campus crisis management.

Six years after 9-11 and two years after Hurricane Katrina ravished the Gulf Coast area, a significant number of colleges and universities have yet to develop a strategic plan for IT disaster planning and crisis management. As for fall 2007, roughly 30 percent of public universities, private universities, and public four-year colleges report no strategic plan for IT disaster planning, rising to just over half of private four-year colleges. Given what we know about these events – that it is not necessarily matter if a crisis strikes but more likely when – it is striking and surprising that so many campuses have yet to develop an initial IT crisis management plan, let alone revise plans that may now be two, three, or four years old.

For fall 2007, the newest component of the campus IT crisis management plan involves emergency notification systems and services: how do institutions contact members of the campus community in the event of a crisis? In the wake of the tragic events at Virginia Tech in spring 2007, many campus officials now feel a mandate – actual, implied, or easily inferred – for their institution to acquire notification technologies and to develop a notification plan in the event of a campus emergency.

What do we know about notification planning following Virginia Tech? As of fall 2007, more than two-fifths (44.0 percent) of the institutions participating in the 2007 Campus Survey report a strategic plan for emergency notification services. However the survey data reveal great variations by sector in the percentage of institutions that have developed these plans.

The 2007 survey data suggest that many campuses have “gone to the closet” to see what resources might be at hand in their efforts to create a notification system: across all sectors, the highest numbers for the functional components of the notification plan as of fall 2007 are (not surprisingly) posting messages on campus portals, sending email, and using the campus phone system. Comparatively few institutions have the capacity to provide notification messages to off-campus phones and to cell/mobile phones.


Emergency Notifiction

Many campuses are exploring integrated messaging systems to address the challenge of reaching students, faculty and staff. These integrated systems send one message via multiple channels to reach recipients, typically via conventional phones (land lines) and cell phones, text messaging, and email. These systems address the mobility issue among students and faculty: if I am not in an office or a dorm room, tethered to computer or campus phone, how do you contact me in the event of an emergency? (Disclosure: NTI Group and Rave Wireless, two of the many firms offering notification services to colleges and universities, are corporate sponsors of The Campus Computing Project.)

Yet I suspect that purchasing the technology is probably the easy (or easier) part of emergency notification planning on campus. The hard part is implementation: system testing (how fast will the messages be delivered? how reliable is the delivery?), user education for both campus officials and student recipients, having students provide and then update their contact information, decision trees about who activates a notification message and under what circumstances, and making sure that students who receive emergency messages do not view them as spam.

Of course another aspect of planning for and implementing notification services involves money: while overall IT funding has improved in recent years, tapping current campus IT resources and/or acquiring new systems and services to develop an emergency notification system requires money. This is another instance of the rising demand (or requriements) for IT resources and services. It is a fair guess that the instiutions that purchased notification technology systems and services in the months following Virginia Tech did not have this money in their IT (or other) budgets as of fall 2006. Rather, they either “found” the money (year end budget dust?) or took it from some other activity or program.

For all the complaints (and there are many) about how much money campuses spend on IT (about 5-6 percent of total campus expenditures, according to data from both The Campus Computing Survey and the EDUCAUSE Core Data Study), we all need to remember – and remind others – about how much IT really does touch everything on and around the campus.

Back to Campus - Fall 2007 (28 Aug 07)

Background Info: Welcome to Digital Tweed-The Blog. The first Digital Tweed column was published in Converge Magazine in June 1999. From 1999 through 2006, the Digital Tweed column appeared regularly, first in Converge, and later in Syllabus Magazine (which is now Campus Technology). The archives of all past Digital Tweed columns will be posted to the Campus Computing web site in the coming weeks.

Onward. Back to Campus, 2007. The fall rituals of academe now include the annual Beloit College Mindset List, reminding us that this year’s college freshmen, Class of 2011 (born in 1989), share less and less of the historical and cultural experiences and references of their parents and professors. Admittedly, it may be easy – perhaps all too easy – to sniff at this list and view it as yet another indicator of what today’s full-time undergraduates don’t know.

     But what if roles were reversed: what if a student group at some high school (Boston’s Latin School? Bronx Science? Beverly Hills High?) were to issue an annual list of coming of age references and cultural experiences? How would we – as parents and professionals in higher education – fare? Dare we compare?

Coming Soon: WiFi Phones on Campus Networks? No question that the winner of this fall’s “Who Admitted that Kid” contest in admissions offices across the country goes to the smart folks at Rochester Institute of Technology. On August 21st, days before going off to freshman orientation, George Holz, RIT class of 2011, announced on his blog that he cracked the iPhone, allowing, as noted on his new Wikipedia bio, “full functionality with almost any SM wireless carrier without any external hardware.” It should be an interesting moment when the Apple (or AT&T) rep who services the RIT campus meets Mr. Holz. Perhaps they’ll talk tech; maybe they will discuss summer internships. (Mr. Holz is also a successful entrepreneur: his blog reports that he traded his hacked iPhone for "a sweet Nissan 350Z and 3 8GB iPhones.”)

     But aside from the extended Warhol unit (minutes/hours of fame) that the iPhone hack generates for Mr. Holz, it also highlights the challenge that the next generation of mobile phones present to campus IT and telecom officers. To date mobile phones and campus networks have generally resided in independent, if at times parallel worlds: colleges and universities, as ISPs, provided Internet access for members of their communities. In contrast, mobile phones remained largely a consumer service, provided by the major carriers such as AT&T/Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, among others. The iPhone heralds the coming (first arrival?) of a new generation of WiFi phones that can connect to (wireless) campus networks. The looming question for campus IT and telecom officers involves the emerging expectations among students and faculty who begin to wander campus with iPhones and other WiFi compatible mobile devices in the coming months. On some campuses, the WiFi phone conversation will be a matter of when, not if. Yet other institutions may dwell on the if question, asking if campuses are (implicitly) obligated to open campus networks to devices that are not explicitly linked to the educational mission of the institution. And regardless of the decision – if vs. when to open the campus network to WiFi phones – there will also be will be conversations about costs, security, and bandwidth. DT