Don't let faculty concerns sideline your digital-first strategy.

By RedShelf

Increasingly, campus store managers’ vision of course materials delivery includes ensuring day-one access and the benefits of digital formats for 100% of students in 100% of courses. Whether through campus-wide Inclusive Access (IA) or Equitable Access (EA), or by relying more heavily on providing digital through point-of-sale in-store and online, the digital-first movement has entered a new phase. Conversations have moved away from optimizing a campus store’s physical inventory for sale and rent, and to the now-crystallized benefits of digital content delivery. 

So, the next question emerges:

Have you written your game plan for overcoming the challenges that lie ahead?

The business case for change is strong. Incoming freshmen spent over 50% of their high school years in remote or hybrid learning environments and 100% are digitally-oriented. The supply chain is a mess - estimates call for interruptions in raw materials availability and logistics through 2023. Stores are operating at 20% of their former staff levels (or lower), and simply can’t handle the same work of managing physical goods. And none of these arguments even touch the lost market share that a strong digital strategy can help rebuild. 

But as in any era of change, you’re likely to encounter misunderstandings and opportunities to clarify information regarding your store’s digital transformation. You might have already encountered faculty reluctance to shift to digital; and that’s no surprise. In an April 2022 educational resources survey of college faculty and administrators by Bayview Analytics, 80% of faculty respondents were unsure whether IA was offered on campus, or were unaware or unsure of what IA was. That number rose to 96% among responding administrators. Numbers like this are practically guaranteed to generate skepticism. 

The good news? You can reduce faculty resistance by building a communications plan that responds to common concerns. 

The following are a few faculty challenges we’ve heard from some of the many campuses we serve. If you’re getting these as well, delivering the counterpoints below may help pivot instructors toward adopting digital materials for the next term. 


Faculty concern #1:

“I choose what I want for my courses; I don’t want to be told what to adopt.” 

Reframing the conversation:   

Arguments around faculty freedom have evolved, but the premise is universal; as experts and professionals, they’re in the best position to declare and require the materials for student success. If this topic becomes the barrier to digital expansion, reinforce the bookstore’s role as an advocate and cheerleader for their well-earned faculty freedom: 

  • Faculty can lean on the bookstore to match required material requests with the exact digital content needed to drive student success-if they need, you can find it
  • When faculty select content, the bookstore seeks out the best solution for getting it into students’ hands - checking the necessary boxes on affordability, accessibility, and student success
  • In the Bayview Analytics survey mentioned above, 69% of faculty either required or recommended a digital textbook for their class, and 82% of faculty reported no change in control over selecting materials during the pandemic-related boost in digital materials


Faculty concern #2:

“I can’t find the quality content I need in digital format; Digital content platforms aren’t effective.”

Reframing the conversation:  

Title availability was a frequent concern in the early days of higher education’s digital experiment. And digital’s early test may have left lingering false assumptions. Similarly, opinions of older, less-developed digital content platforms may have yet to evolve. Here are points that can improve the reputation of modern-day solutions:

  • RedShelf delivers 1M+ titles from thousands of publishers into the hands of students each year
  • A 12-month pilot IA study by Follett and the University of Virginia Community College System revealed a 10%+ improvement in A/B/C grades earned year-over-year, and a 7%+ decrease in D/F grades when students had access to content on the first day of class
  • There is evidence that IA programs are particularly effective for underserved communities–2022 research analysis by the University of New Hampshire showed increases in success rates (letter grade C or better) for Black student populations ranging from 8.5% to over 13%


Faculty concern #3:

“Students get the best price when they search for old and used editions online.”

Reframing the conversation:  

Course materials affordability remains high on the list of faculty concerns (but it isn’t always paramount). When nearly every consumer good can be price-compared, ordered, and delivered - often within 24 hours - from a phone, it figures that faculty assume this is the best and most preferred process for students to procure materials. However, the opposite is often true:

  • Third-party retailing sites put students at risk of potential fraud or abuse, and although the first few listings may appear inexpensive, quantities may be very limited or completely unavailable 
  • Limited quantities of out-of-date editions drive prices up, and some publishers are blocking sales through online retailers, like Amazon
  • In a Spring 2022 IA pilot at University of Houston, Follett reported that 92% of nearly 5,000 participating students said they would rather register for a class where course materials are included as part of the class, and 82% would prefer the university offer all their classes as part of the IA program

RedShelf has the expertise to help build your digital expansion playbook and achieve your IA or EA goals. Together, we’ll create a plan to reach all students in all courses–faster than you think–and with a billing model that will drive efficiency and sell-through.

Contact us today to receive your digital expansion playbook:

  • Identify the best courses and sections for early expansion
  • Select the best team members to support the effort
  • Predict and plan for the challenges you could face

Tags: #InclusiveAccess, #BookstoreManager