Although the Barnes and Noble franchise officially took over UConn bookstore operations this summer, with over 40 years in business, the UConn Co-op has had to continue planning the transition and its dissolution into the school year. Recently, it announced that $300,000 of its remaining assets would be committed to affordable textbook initiatives, according to a report by Kimberly Armstrong of the Daily Campus, published on September 30, 2016.
The $300,000 consists of a $200,000 donation, which will be spent by the university library system for affordable education materials, and an endowment of $100,000 to support similar textbook initiatives in the future.
Lowering the cost of textbooks is certainly in the interest of students. The affordability of textbooks was a key concern in transitioning ownership of the bookstore from the Co-op to a private company. According to NBC News, the cost of textbooks has increased 1,041 percent – over three times the rate of inflation – from 1977 to 2015. The high price of textbooks and other education materials contribute to the rising “hidden costs” of attending college, which must be addressed in debates about how to make college more affordable.
There are questions, however, about the process through which the UConn Co-op came to the decision to make such a sizable contribution. In the past, the Undergraduate Student Government and UConnPIRG have been active in advocating for affordable textbook and open source textbook initiatives. A committee, the UConn Affordable Textbook Committee, has even been formed to specifically address the issue. Such groups have worked with outside projects and state lawmakers.
However, it is unclear how much input from the greater UConn student community was taken into consideration while making this decision. As an independent, cooperative bookstore, the Co-op often prided itself in being “member-owned.” As such, it is somewhat problematic that one of its last, major financial decisions came as a surprise to most students and community members. Even though the decision was made and designed with their interests in mind, more students should have had a say in how to handle the Co-ops remaining assets – a more transparent process with the holding of public forums, for example.