Students are shown between classes on the Knight campus last August. (Photo by Community College of Rhode Island)
PROVIDENCE — Two bidders are vying for a five-year state contract to operate the campus bookstores of the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), including one with ties to former gubernatorial candidate Helena Buonanno Foulkes.
Follett Higher Education Group and Barnes and Noble Colleges, LLC, submitted bids by the March 27 deadline for the state’s solicitation.
Buonanno Foulkes was named the executive chair of Follett Higher Education Group’s Board of Directors in January. She serves as an advisor to the Westchester, Illinois.-based company’s executive leadership team, support operational and strategic business objectives, and enhance campus engagement and outreach efforts.
Buonanno Foulkes is the former CEO of Hudson’s Bay Company and before that served as president of CVS Pharmacy and executive vice president of CVS Health. She lost the Sept. 13, 2022, Democratic primary to Gov. Dan McKee. She received 30% of the vote to McKee’s 33%. Former Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea garnered 25%.
Follett is higher education’s largest campus retailer, operating nearly 1,200 local campus stores and about 1,700 virtual stores across North America. Follett operates the campus stores at Bryant, Johnson & Wales, and Salve Regina universities.
Barnes and Noble has a contract to run CCRI’s digital bookstore and also runs the campus store at Rhode Island College in Providence, according to the company website. The company runs the campus stores for Providence College and Roger Williams University and private schools including LaSalle Academy, Moses Brown, St. George’s and Providence Country Day.
CCRI sought full-service, turn-key proposals to manage and operate campus stores at all four locations – Warwick, Lincoln, Providence and Newport. The Newport campus store will be run as a pop-up, according to the solicitation document. The other stores have a combined square footage of 8,800 square feet.
The initial contract period would begin approximately July 1, 2023, and continue for five years. Contracts may be renewed for up to five additional 12-month periods based on vendor performance and the availability of funds.
Bookstore sales on decline
According to documentation from Ocean State Procures, the state’s contracting portal, CCRI has seen declining enrollment over the past three academic years, falling from 14,775 in the Fall 2019 semester to 12,263 in the Fall 2022 semester.
Bookstore sales mirrored the drop, going from $6,003,481 in fiscal year 2020 to $4,447,792 in the 2022 fiscal year.
According to a letter presented to the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner in June, the stores have lost $155,508 per year since 2019 due to lower commission rates on sales alongside the increased use of cheaper digital materials for classroom learning over textbooks.
“These trends accelerated during the pandemic and are expected to continue into the foreseeable future. Correspondingly, service levels amongst the four campuses have been reduced and the physical spaces need modernization,” according to the letter.
The letter also stated that no jobs would be lost as union agreements require the transfer of workers to other departments within the Community College of Rhode Island system.
CCRI spokeswoman Amy Kempe said that the school expects to make a $176,250 commission on the project.
The winning bid would have to be approved by the Council on Postsecondary Education. The council’s next meeting is scheduled for April 19 though the agenda has yet to be posted.
The new owner would also be expected to maintain pricing at the publishers suggested rate, with new textbooks being sold at a 25% margin, used textbooks sold at 75% of new book price, paperback books sold at publishers price with a 10% to 46% profit margin, and custom published books sold at a 30% margin.
“It is essential that the Campus Store be managed with maximum sensitivity to the needs and concerns of our students, faculty and staff,” according to the state’s solicitation letter.
Kempe said CCRI entered into a contract with Barnes and Noble subsidiary MBS Direct on October 20, 2020, to run a digital bookstore, as the school was completely remote at the time due to COVID lockdowns. Though the contract runs through October 20, 2025, the agreement would be modified or terminated upon the decision for the new bookstore contract.
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