Photo by Taylor Laird for Live Wire

HACC considers outsourcing bookstores Campus bookstores may never be the same

In HACC News by Robert Beiler

If Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) was no longer in charge of the campus bookstore, would you notice? Outsourcing has been a debated issue over the last couple of decades as many United States companies look to other countries for various aspects. This is not just a problem of work moving to other countries though, as many colleges look to outsource their own services, such as bookstores, to private businesses.

HACC is one of those colleges considering outsourcing as an option, as they have before with Subway as a food service provider at the Lancaster and Harrisburg campuses. The college has distributed a Request for Proposal (RFP) which invites outside companies to bid to take over the existing bookstore locations. This would give these companies control over the distribution lines and workers at those bookstores.

Monique Baylor, the Director of Procurement for the college, is overseeing the RFP process according to a statement from the Office of College Advancement.

The proposal has received response from at least a few companies already, with a deadline for submission on February 27, 2015. Brittany Wagner, President of Student Government Association (SGA) for the Lancaster campus, stated possible prospects include Barnes and Noble, Follett, and the Nebraska Book Company.

Wagner was wary of such a proposal. “I don’t want services to be lost to students,” she stated in a brief interview. “I think Jayne [Walsh, manager of the Lancaster campus store] and the current bookstore staff [go] above and beyond in regard to students.” As Wagner began to learn more about the proposal, she is more hopeful. “I believe that [HACC] is going to do what they believe is in the best interest of the college and the students.” She also believes that any outside company looking to take over would have to “make it worthwhile” to the college by at least offering similar services and making more revenue.

SGA Vice President Casey Davies is not convinced. “I can understand where the school is coming from with trying to cut costs where possible,” Davies said. “Enrollment has dropped in accordance with the revenue drop, and I think that plays most of a factor into the revenue drop.” Davies believes the only solution to the bookstore’s decreasing revenue is to invest in making HACC a school that students want to stay enrolled at. Davies also states his doubt that a bigger organization will be able to make more out of the same budget options. “I don’t see how they will be able to do that without jacking the prices up.”

In a letter to Monique Baylor, the SGA Executive Council made several requests about the RFP. The letter requested student representation to look at the bids and to know how the outsourcing may affect student workers. It also questioned if student clubs and organizations would be able to sell items in the bookstore, a function that was absent in the proposal. John Eberly, Vice President of Finance for the college, addressed some of these issues when reached out to by Live Wire.

Photo by Taylor Laird for Live Wire

Sweatshirts sporting the HACC logo hang on display at the Lancaster campus bookstore.

“Absolutely “ Eberly said regarding student items, “That’s one of the things that we also will be evaluating to make sure the same continuity of services that the faculty got, that the students got, will continue.“  Using nursing students as examples, he noted many items besides textbooks and notebooks that those majors require. “I don’t want to sacrifice a single item,” he concluded.

Eberly expressed interest to keep on those who are currently employed. He understands the concern, stating that a full overhaul would be terrible for the transition. Eberly stated a desire to allow the companies “see what their business model is” and that at the point he was uncertain what would occur. He says the college would definitely want to know what potential companies plan to do about student workers before accepting.

Eberly is not a proponent of outsourcing, but sees it as a possible necessity. “In my role, [I] have to look at the dollars and cents of things. With the state not contributing as much as it has been, we ultimately have to look at running the bookstore as efficiently as possible.”

As a former student, Eberly also expressed a desire avoid a rise in costs for items by the potential companies. “We do not want the students to be gouged; we want to keep them as low as possible for students.”

While no one had been assigned at the time Eberly reached out, a position was opened for a member of the SGA to be a part of the bid review. This position was then fulfilled by Vandon Tricamo, the SGA President for the Lebanon campus.

While HACC may find this change to have a positive outcome for student, Barnes and Noble and others are facing stiff competition from online retailers like Amazon. The brick-and-mortar retailer has also made a recent move to spin off its college division from the main company.

The proposal is still in the planning stages. Eberly was quick to point out that HACC can step away from the proposals if they feel it is not a good offer for the college. If accepted, bids will then go to the HACC Board of Trustees at the end of March. If accepted, Eberly also stated the college would look the make the full transition by July 1, 2015.