Bookstore Profits Soar as Students Struggle: Fighting a Rigged System


By Lakisha Brown
Students are paying markup prices for books and essential school supplies following a backroom deal between the college and Follett Corporation. Bookstore policies and regulations are set up to increase the store’s profit, at the expense of students.

Follett, an Illinois-based private bookstore company, entered a five year contractual agreement with Suffolk on July 15, 2014. According to the terms listed in the contract on the college’s website, “Follett will pay an annual commission to the school ranging from 12 percent of a $5 million profit, and up to 14 percent of any revenue which exceeds $10 million.” The school has incentive to keep prices high, and students are left to bear the cost.

“They’re really high. I try to rent from Chegg because the prices here are ridiculous,” Sara Schabe, Ammerman campus student, said. Schabe expressed a lack of confidence or interest in the schools’ price match program. “I’ve not bothered with price match because most places that do that have too many loopholes, which makes it hard for you to benefit.” All across campus, students are outraged and have voiced their concerns about overpriced books. Online competitors such as Amazon and eBay rent and sell their books at a fraction of the bookstore’s costs, but some practices encourage students to buy from the bookstore despite the high costs. Financial aid becomes available three to four weeks after the semester has begun, forcing some students to rely on advance funding, placed on their school ID’s, from the college in order to purchase books and supplies that would otherwise be unaffordable to many students.

The school has initiated a “Price Match” program in which students provide evidence of competing prices for books or supplies, and the school matches the lower price. In addition, the bookstore will issue a gift card for the difference. However, terms and conditions do apply, but are not readily available on the school’s website. If the product is sold by Amazon, the agreement is valid, but if the product is sold from another carrier through Amazon, the store will not honor it. Students seeking to benefit from the price match program must contact bookstore management to fully understand price match terms prior to participating in the program.

Standard bookstore hours for all campuses are Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. – 2p.m., and closed on Saturday and Sunday. Average daytime work hours are from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and there are no drop box locations established, which can cause major issues for working adults needing to return rental books before set deadlines. According to the bookstore frequently asked questions section. “If you don’t return your books by the return date, we’ll charge your credit card a non-return fee as well as a processing fee and you will then own the book. You can keep the book or sell your book back pursuant to the buyback policies of your bookstore. The additional fees cover the expenses of finding another copy of the book before next semester.”

Returning books a couple of days late would still give the bookstore ample time to replace books before the next semester, but rejecting this notion ensures financial gain for their business. The bookstore benefits from late returns because they can charge students full price for their books, buy that same book back for less than fifty percent of the original price, and sell the book again to students for the next semester. In many cases, the decreased buyback prices are so low that students opt to sell their own books elsewhere.

In addition to the annual contractual incentive, Follett Higher Education Group, Inc. agreed to provide an annual $10, 000 general scholarship and an annual $10,000 textbook scholarship in the form of gift cards, both to be paid to Suffolk. The whereabouts of these funds are unknown, and raises questions and concerns for many.

The Student Liaison Committee is responsible for discussing issues that affect students and faculty, representing student to the Senate, and recommending solution to the Senate, according to their webpage.

“Most of the complaints I have heard about the bookstore are in the area of price and availability,” Richard Norman, Chair Senator of the Ammerman Campus Student Liaison Committee, said. “Unfortunately, I no longer get any bookstore reports because the bookstore representative is no longer on the student liaison committee,” he added.

“The Bookstore Committee generally meets at least once per semester, although this semester we’ve met twice,” Deborah Provenzano, former Governance and Students Bookstore Committee Representative, said. Infrequent bookstore committee meetings, and the student liaison bookstore representative vacancy, may be a sign that students don’t have sufficient representation or an active voice concerning the bookstore’s high prices.

Students can rent or purchase books at cheaper prices from websites like Amazon.com, eBay.com, Thriftbooks.com, Cheggs.com, and Campusbookrentals.com. Alternative options are eBook purchases, archives.org, and free Google eBooks. Students should forward their questions or concerns to members of the student liaison committee, Student Government Association, Christina Bosco, Bookstore representative to the Faculty Senate.

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