For the past six years, Hinsdale High School District 86 has been perhaps one of the most unique districts in the United States.
It's not uncommon for public schools in the Chicago area to administer a textbook or course material fee to families to cover costs for their student's education, but in an effort to reduce costs, Hinsdale's two high schools — Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South — opted to have families purchase their own materials from a third party.
"Our student population has a large number of students who take AP courses, and then we have another segment who take regular gen-ed classes," explained Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh. "The price difference on those books is astronomical, and we couldn’t come to a break-even point on what to charge families for books that was equitable — for example, we could charge gen-ed students $1,000 when they could get their books for $200 on their own, or we could charge our AP students $1,000 when their materials really cost $1,500."
Price wasn't the only issue that drove Hinsdale toward a different distribution model. Managing a bookstore with limited hours wasn't an effective way for Hinsdale parents to buy their students' materials during their busy schedules, so Hinsdale opted to partner with a third party to operate an online bookstore. However, after four years of flagging customer service and higher prices, Hinsdale chose to partner with MBS Direct as its official course material fulfillment provider starting with the 2016-2017 school year.
Now students at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South can buy or rent titles in a variety of cost-saving formats, including rental and marketplace, which can save students up to 95% off the list price.
"In these economic times, we’re always looking to make education as cost effective for our parents as we can," said Eric Martzolf, assistant principal at Hinsdale South High School. "We traditionally haven’t charged fees here, but since parents had to purchase their textbooks, MBS Direct's model made far more sense for us in order to make it user friendly for parents — rather than us remaining in the book-buying and distribution market, which is not our strength."
While they're both in the same district, Hinsdale South and Central each have their own unique needs as schools. As a result, they each have unique arrangements with MBS Direct.
To ensure delivery for Hinsdale South's free and reduced lunch students, titles are automatically ordered on students' behalf based on their schedule, and then sent directly to the school for distribution. The rest of Hinsdale South's student body utilizes an Online Bookstore to make their orders based on the format of their choice. The school also utilizes a global voucher system, meaning they submit financial aid information to MBS Direct to automatically apply to students' orders, so they pay a discounted rate.
"We have a 31% free and reduced lunch population, so our waivered student book system was a mess last year from our previous company, both in ordering the materials and getting them here in a timely manner," Martzolf said.
"Working with MBS Direct has been a difference of night and day. We set it up one time and don't have to touch anything, so now the student enrolls, books are ordered for them and shipped here right away. It's as smooth as could possibly be."
— Eric Martzolf, assistant principal at Hinsdale South High School
Hinsdale Central has a more traditional Online Bookstore, where families can order their students' books in the format of their choice. Eligible families are also issued their own financial aid vouchers directly from the school to apply their discount at the time of purchase.
MBS Direct's digital offerings also made a convenient choice for both schools, which are transitioning to a 1:1 Chromebook plan beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.
"Parents had to schedule a time in a very limited window to get books from us when we provided them, and buying from us meant everything was one price at one time," Walsh said. "With the Online Bookstore, parents can buy their books all summer long at their convenience, and buy more options themselves. I didn’t personally get any calls about books this summer from parents, and it was the first time in a while that has been the case.”
Both schools also noticed service was significantly improved with MBS Direct, praising their client services representatives.
"Our problem becomes their problem," Martzolf said. "They are very responsive, very receptive and are willing to look for a solution that fits us best, not necessarily just what fits MBS Direct best. It’s more than customer service: it’s a customer experience."