Making Course Material Selections Easier and More Affordable: 5 Questions with Jonathan Shar

faculty adoptions

Jonathan Shar, the Executive Vice President of Retail and Client Solutions at Barnes & Noble Education, shares his perspective on challenges, opportunities and technological advancements related to the higher education industry and course material adoption.

What are the most influential industry trends you’re seeing right now in higher education?

Increasingly, we’re seeing students and parents require an increased return on investment (ROI) for higher education. At its core, ROI is about value. Does the value provided justify the cost?

Affordability, flexibility, ease of use and a positive overall experience drive value for students and parents today. At Barnes & Noble College, we’re helping schools deliver on those drivers, eliminating points of friction and creating experiences that are seamless extensions of the school experience. We’re transforming every aspect of the college store, including the course material process, to be more personalized, more digital and more user-friendly.

It’s important to note that these trends did not emerge in the wake of COVID-19 — it simply has accelerated and amplified what we were already seeing. Our focus has remained on supporting schools’ key priorities and value drivers, from affordability and access to retention and student success.

Jonathan Shar, Executive Vice President of Retail and Client Solutions at Barnes & Noble Education

What do faculty and administrators need from the adoption process that they aren’t getting today?

Historically, there’s been a greater need for investment in tools to support faculty, academic leadership and administrators in the adoption process. Our first step was — and always is — to listen and learn about their needs.

Like most of us, faculty and administrators have a great deal on their plates — and they’re trying to do more with less. The simpler and more streamlined the course material adoption process, the better. Faculty value their academic freedom and they want to be able to adopt the best materials for their courses. They also understand the importance of affordability. They need an adoption platform that’s easy to use, with tools that make it simple to research course materials and compare pricing. Administrators need tools that provide visibility into the adoption process while it’s in progress, with insights and tools that allow them to take proactive steps as needed.

How does the adoption process ultimately impact students?

Submitting course materials selections to the college store, on time, matters in terms of access and affordability for students.

The transition to college life is overwhelming for many – 58 percent of students told us that adjusting has been stressful in our 2020 National Student Pulse report. Course materials can add to students’ confusion in terms of knowing which course material is necessary for which course or where best to purchase from. So, one of the best things we can do to support them is provide one place where they can access an aggregated list of all course materials they need, as early as we can provide it. That gives them greater access to lower-cost options and makes it easier to acquire what they need before the first day of class.

From the school’s point of view, early adoption offers a clear view into demand, securing a better negotiating position for college stores, which leads to better returns at buyback and better prices on the next term’s course materials. Early adoption also supports the ability to create broader cost-saving solutions. Late adoptions, on the other hand, don’t just minimize the leverage bookstores have on pricing – they can lead to backorders, which have a negative effect on affordability and preparedness.

What is Barnes & Noble College’s answer to the problem of complicated adoption processes?

I’m proud to say that it’s not just Barnes & Noble College’s answer – in many ways, we jointly developed our solution with campus partners. We built the Adoption & Insights Portal (AIP) on the strength of those discussions, prioritizing the benefits our partners valued most and solving for their pain points. The result is a centralized, easy-to-use platform for faculty and administrators.

AIP makes it simple for faculty to find the best and most affordable course material options. They have easy access to their own adoption history and the freedom to choose from 10 million ISBNs and a range of textbooks, eBooks and courseware from all major publishers. Not only can they see current prices across all formats, they receive affordability recommendations (including OER) to consider as a complement or substitute for traditional course materials.

The portal is simple and streamlined at every step to eliminate points of friction. One of our partners emphasized that requiring users to sign in with a unique username and password meant that many faculty and administrators had to reset their password every term. In response, we developed AIP with single sign-on using institutional credentials. We also created a smoother experience with features like “One Click Re-Adopt” and 24/7 support, available over the phone or via chat within the portal.

From an administrative standpoint, the portal creates transparency, providing a real-time view of adoption rates, submission progress and affordability data at the institutional, campus or departmental level. Leaders at schools like Walla Walla University, one of the earliest adopters of AIP, tell us they appreciate the portal’s dashboard and current, up-to-date reporting. Equipped with these timely insights, administrators can communicate directly with faculty from the portal using on-demand and automated emails. They also can post site-wide messages, displayed at the top of the dashboard and visible to all users.

Of course, the portal also is intended to help schools with another key priority. In supporting affordability, it not only works to help students, but creates additional incentive to buy through the college store, opening opportunities to recapture revenue and market share.

How does AIP fit with Barnes & Noble College’s other course material solutions?

Adoption is the first and foundational step in the course material process. AIP plays a key role in the larger ecosystem of technologies we offer, helping to drive greater affordability, flexibility and ease of use. All solutions from Barnes & Noble College tie back to the same goals: delivering greater value to our partner schools and creating a seamless extension of the university experience for students and parents.

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