FIU Moves Forward With New Textbook Program, Amid Concerns

Graphic shared on the Shop FIU Instagram page in promotion of Panther Book Pack.

Maya Washburn & Teresa Schuster / Asst. News Directors

FIU will implement a subscription-based textbook rental program called Panther Book Pack this coming fall. It will charge all undergraduate students $20 per credit hour. In exchange, students will receive all their courses’ required print and digital course materials.

The program was announced to students via email on March 9 and implications were discussed at a faculty senate meeting on June 8.

Some faculty and students have expressed concern about the program’s use and cast doubt on its claimed benefits. While the program can save some students money — FIU estimates as much as $375 per semester — it would cost others more than buying textbooks without it.

Such programs are relatively new — this will be the first implementation of one in the Florida state university system, according to Kenia Junco, director of retail operations at FIU. Junco spoke with PantherNOW about the program in April.

“It really is meant to be kind of a trial for two years to assess what it does for things like student success,” said Junco, emphasizing the program’s goal is textbook affordability and equity for students.

An email sent by the Office of Academic & Student Affairs on March 9 said the Panther Book Pack will save students an estimated 35% to 50% on course materials.

Screenshot of the email announcing Panther Book Pack to the university community on March 9.

The program will also give students more time to receive and pay for their course materials, according to Junco.

“With [Panther Book Pack,] we can offer every single student their course materials on the first day of class, and they don’t have to have money or credit to walk into the bookstore and pay for that in that moment,” Junco said. “They have until payment is due to FIU to actually pay that bill.”

Because some materials may be low in cost or not required for some courses, students can choose to opt-out from the time they register for their courses until the end of the add/drop period.

As the program will go into effect this fall, students have not yet been charged. Junco said they can expect to be charged towards the end of July.

“Charges [will be] loaded based on whatever students are registered for at that point for the fall,” said Junco. “There’s going to be an email that goes out from FIU and Barnes and Noble to make sure students catch it. We’re also going to blitz social media and really try to get out there as much as possible.”

Funds for students who opt out will come back in the form of reimbursements.

Junco said students can log in to their MyFIU account the same way they did to register, and choose if they want to opt out or move forward with the program. If students want their items shipped, a fixed $7.99 shipping fee applies. 

“[With Panther Book Pack,] you don’t get to pick and choose what you want. If you’re participating, you’re going to get everything on [your course] list,” said Junco.

She said FIU will send students an email with a link to a personalized Barnes & Noble site listing the materials they would receive through the program. They can then decide whether to remain in the program or opt out.

Alicia Ordacowski, a senior studying hospitality management, said she didn’t think the program would benefit her.

“A lot of the time, our professors don’t even use the required textbooks. With a lot of hospitality students and I’m sure many other majors, it’s experience-based,” said Ordacowski.

She explained because her courses are based on knowledge gained through experience, the program would be useless to her.

“I haven’t spent money on textbooks since [around] 2019 when I was finishing my prerequisites,” Ordacowski said. “I don’t see the purpose or benefit of [Panther Book Pack] because I personally do not spend money on textbooks myself.”

Ordacowski calculated that the program would cost her $240 she wouldn’t need to otherwise spend for the 12 credits she has left to graduate. She plans to opt out, but criticized the program’s structure.

“I feel like you should [have] to opt in to this [program,] not opt out,” said Ordacowski.

Some faculty members shared similar concerns at last week’s faculty senate meeting.

“I think students are going to be the ones who lose a bit on this…and Barnes and Noble wins,” said Nathan Dodge, who teaches at FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Dodge’s comments came after a presentation about the program by Junco and Birgitta Rausch-Monoto, a member of FIU’s Textbook Affordability Task Force.

“We will generate significant savings for all our undergraduate students!,” one of Junco and Rausch-Monoto’s presentation slides read.

They highlighted the program’s benefits and reiterated that students can opt out of the program if they choose. 

“We understand that the perception of an opt-out program is one that our students [think they are] being forced into this,” said Rausch-Monoto. “Because we made this [Panther Book Pack] model work, it is sustainable for everybody who participates. It’s a win-win-win.”

Rausch-Monoto presents the Panther Book Pack student interface at the faculty senate meeting.

While there will be an opt-out option come fall, it is currently unavailable on the program’s website, which describes in detail its own benefits but promises the feature allowing students to see the total cost of course material and opt-out is “coming soon”.

Also missing on the website are “detailed instructions on how to opt out” and “examples of comparison pricing by majors”.

Faculty must assist students with understanding the program, Junco and Rausch-Monoto said.

“What’s really important is that you, as an instructor of an undergraduate course, take a look at the materials that you require and that you advise your students accordingly at the beginning of the semester,” Rausch-Monoto told faculty at the meeting.

Their presentation was followed by a question and answer session with faculty, which lasted for nearly 40 minutes. Several senators questioned the program’s logistics and said it was unclear how it would affect students.

Journalism professor Neil Reisner said he was confused how the program would work for majors like journalism that assigned books students would need throughout the year.

“I’m not trying to make trouble, I’m really not, contrary to what people may think,” said Reisner. “I really am having trouble getting my mind around this.”

He and another professor, Samantha Lemus-Martinez, raised additional concerns about assigning recommended textbooks under the new program.

The program only covers required textbooks which students must return each term.

Under the new program students would pay the full cost of all recommended materials, said Rausch-Monoto, explaining that FIU will cover required course materials but is discouraging professors from listing recommended materials as required.

“We don’t want the faculty to game the system,” she told Lemus-Martinez, who had asked about doing so in order to save students money.

One of the last senators to question the presenters, Dodge said he wasn’t convinced of the program’s benefits.

“I think that this is akin to an all-you-can-drink package on a cruise where the cruise ship wins and the customer doesn’t,” said Dodge, announcing his intent to use the program as a case study in his classes to see for himself whether students benefit.

“Let’s exchange data, please. I welcome that,” responded an amused Junco.

Dodge’s study may be one of the first to provide data on the results of such a program. According to Junco, FIU is one of the first universities to implement one. And of the institutions that do have similar programs, most have far less students or are private universities.

Junco said feedback from these institutions seems to be “positive thus far”.

Dodge reiterated his concerns.

“I’m curious how many of my students do it, versus what they could have paid,” said Dodge. “We’re going to have a lot of fun next semester.”

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