Textbook Butler debuts on campus: improvements planned

By Bailey Basham

A little more than 94 percent of textbook orders were filled on time this fall after the launch of a new program to include textbooks in tuition.  The higher-than-normal  5 percent unfilled rate is because of tragedy in the company that Trevecca contracts with to provide the textbooks.

Trevecca contracts textbooks through Tree of Life Bookstores. Tree of Life partners with 17 other Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) member schools, according to Patrick Eckhardt, director of marketing for Tree of Life.

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Tree of Life’s Textbook Butler program was put in place at the beginning of the fall semester. Rather than paying for textbooks in addition to the tuition increase for this academic year, the cost of nonconsumables (i.e., textbooks) for undergraduate students was covered by the 3.6 percent increase. Students are still responsible for purchasing consumables (i.e., workbooks, course access codes and lab books).

“Tree of Life had somebody that was supposed to come down to help in the bookstore, and the day before that person was going to leave, they were driving, and a bicyclist came out in front of them. In essence, that bicyclist was killed, and that bicyclist was the son of a Tree of Life employee. That messed Tree of Life up because they didn’t run a fulfillment, and we got back logged for three days,” said said David Caldwell, executive vice president of finance and administration.”

Being back logged for three days caused the 5 percent deficit in the number of textbook orders that were filled accurately and shipped to campus on time.

“Overall, Tree of Life stated that they had close to a 5 percent unfulfilled rate, which was significantly higher than what their standard is,” said Caldwell. “Their maximum that Tree of Life shoots for is 2 percent. They fulfilled [10,500] books, and they were short about five percent of those [with 736 issues].”

Tree of Life officials visited Trevecca’s campus on Sept. 29 to meet with Trevecca administration and deans of the schools on campus to discuss the process and what could be done to make things better next semester.

Lena Hegi Welch, dean of the school of arts and sciences, was one of the deans present at that meeting. At that meeting, Welch said she got better understanding of the process of choosing the books and why some of the books were late.

“They explained why there was a little over five percent of the book orders that weren’t fulfilled in a timely manner. It came down to what is really a tragic situation and the company. My heart broke for them,” said Welch.

Welch surveyed a sample of the faculty in the school of arts and sciences and said that around day 10 of the semester, professors reported an average of 20 percent of their students did not have textbooks yet.

“We were told that students would get their books in three to five days, but if you don’t add the class until maybe day four or five of the semester—which is still within that one week [drop/add] period—and then you don’t get the book for another four or five days, you’re close to two weeks into the class with no book. I had several students who were in that position,” said Welch.

Caldwell expects next semester to go more smoothly.

“Spring semester should not have the same issues as this fall. The biggest issue this fall was that we had the late registration, and because [Tree of Life] was fulfilling from Marion, Indiana versus us having the books here, it took [time to ship]. Then when they had the tragedy, they didn’t send any books down for three days. That issue goes away in the spring,” said Caldwell.  

Holly Steinmetz, director of the on campus bookstore, said Tree of Life maintains a surplus inventory for all the undergraduate classes offered at Trevecca. The company will be sending extra books to campus next semester as well.

“Tree of Life will be sending extra books for us to have on the shelf for students registering late or adding courses last minute. This will be a huge help,” said Steinmetz. “The students are our priority, and our goal is to get the books in their hands as soon as possible.”

Though the benefits of Textbook Butler are significant, Caldwell said students do have the option to opt out of the program.  

“The incremental credit hour cost for students who opt out is $10 per credit hour. We pay a service fee on top of that for some of the software we’re licensing from them,” said Caldwell.

According to Chuck Seaman, director of financial services, five students opted out of the textbook butler program this semester.

For students who want to buy their textbooks at the end of the semester, Caldwell said the Textbook Butler program is actually more cost-effective than shopping around elsewhere.

“You can go on Tree of Life’s website and see that there is a rental value that they’ll show you. We’re not paying that rental value—we’re paying less than that because we’re renting so many, but what that allows is say you’re using a $200 science book. Maybe the rental value is $70. For  a student who wants to opt out to get their $150 back for their 15 hours, on that three hour class, they’d only get $30 back for that class when instead, they could get a $70 credit for that book. All they have to do is hold onto their book at the end of the semester. It’s essentially an interest-free loan since the difference would be charged to your account, and you don’t have to pay it until the end of the semester.”

According to Caldwell, the biggest benefit of the program is simple—there are textbooks in the hands of more Trevecca students than there have been in previous years.

“We have an 81 percent retention rate. Ten years ago, we were in the 60s. We think we can keep that rate in the 80s and possibly higher through things like this. If you can increase retention rate by one or two points in the freshman class, then that means four or eight or 12 students are staying in school, and that’s pretty good,” said Caldwell.

Welch said she agrees that the program can be beneficial to students.

“I am pleased with the philosophy of Textbook Butler. I was not real pleased with how it was carried out, but I am very hopeful that Tree of Life, and that we frankly, can do better and make it work,” said Welch. “The philosophy of every student having a book on the first day of class is wonderful.”

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