Catering to adult students includes book deliveries and meals
Tufts and Harvard among universities finding new ways to meet busy professionals' needs.
As nontraditional students continue to make up a growing part of the overall college study body, some institutions are rolling the cost of books into tuition to make enrollment easier for busy working adults. “One-stop-shopping” programs allow students to make a single payment, and often have books delivered to the learner's doorstep.
Tufts University offers an all-inclusive package for adult students enrolled in its masters of science in engineering management program. Offered through the university’s Gordon Institute, the program provides scheduling to book delivery so students can “focus on learning, not logistics,” according to its website.
“Our students have busy schedules and busy lives,” said Rebekah Plotkin, associate director of the Gordon Institute. “They don’t have time to come to campus and go the bookstore and buy a book. We do all the work for them.”
Administrators average the costs of books for the seven-course, two-year program to determine total costs for each semester. Some classes require more materials than others, but costs even out over the length of the program, Plotkin said. If a professor decides to add a textbook at the last minute or mid-semester, the Gordon Institute will send the book to students at no additional charge.
“This system helps students come to class prepared," Plotkin said. “They’ve all been able to get the materials ahead of time. They don’t have the excuse of maybe they didn’t make it to the bookstore before class, or that the bookstore was out of the book. From a performance standpoint, that helps the student.”
Students have the option to pick up the books on campus, but most choose to have books delivered, she said.
And dinner, too
Beyond books, the Gordon Institute has a lounge area where students and faculty enjoy a buffet-style catered meal before evening classes. “Students really like it,” Plotkin said. “They are not in a dining hall with 20 year olds. And it gives them a chance to feel they are a part of the school and part of something bigger.”
The all-in-one price tag, which also includes the meals, is a plus for students who seek reimbursement from employers. Plotkin said about half of students in the masters program receive at least 80% reimbursement from their workplaces.
“We’ve already seen an uptick in people in these programs,” Plotkin said. “It makes a lot of sense for them.”
Not without challenges
Scaling it to benefit students in other programs, however, is a challenge, she said.
“We decided against it, mostly because students have more class choices in other programs,” she said.“In our program, we have seven courses all laid out so it’s fairly rigid and students are all using the same books. It made it easier to determine how much to charge.”
If students are taking classes in other departments that are not be part of the program, it would be difficult to average the cost of books, Plotkin said.
Another inclusive model
Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education also includes the cost of books in its professional executive education programs that are are aimed at teachers and administrators who likely don’t have time to come to campus to buy books and materials, said Jamie Rauch, senior program and project administrator for professional education.
Professional programs run throughout the year, with a total of 650 to 700 students per year. Including the cost of books and delivering the materials to students ensures learners buy them, Rausch said. The campus bookstore provides a 10% discount on the materials.
“In the past, we would take wagons filled with manila envelopes full of books and walk a few blocks to the post office,” Rauch said. “As we were preparing books to send, we would have books piled up on desks, on tables, all over. When interns came we were happy to give the job to them. It was not a good use of our time.”
She thinks all-inclusive models could be scaled to other programs, if institutions have staff and resources to work out logistics.
“Anecdotally, we hear students are happy with it,” Rauch said. “We haven’t seen any issues.”