institutionalfinance

10 colleges, systems agree to use White House shopping sheet

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10 colleges and state systems have agreed to use a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "shopping sheet" to give students information on financial aid.

Ohio State Gets $483M Bid on Parking Facility

Ohio State University has received a bid of $483 million to lease parking operations for the next 50 years, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The university had hoped for a bid of at least $375 million. Some faculty members and others have criticized the leasing plan as needless outsourcing, but university officials have said that a deal could improve parking management and provide needed revenue.

 

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Penn State's $10 Million Scandal Tab

By the end of March, Pennsylvania State University had spent just under $10 million on expenses related to the child sex abuse scandal involving allegations against Jerry Sandusky, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The costs reflect payments for legal fees, consultants and public relations. Other payments -- such as settlements reached with the former Penn State President Graham Spanier -- are not included in the calculation.

 

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Lon Morris College Furloughs Most Employees

Lon Morris College, a private, two-year institution in Texas, has placed all but 11 employees on furloughs, KLTV reported. Miles McCall, the president, has resigned. College officials said that they have called off the two summer sessions that had been planned. Consultants will work this summer on a plan to restore the college to financial health. Employees have also been told that the college stopped paying for health insurance, so they should expect termination of their insurance soon.

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University of Dundee's unusual approach to raising money for mortuary

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University of Dundee -- with help from crime writers -- has an unusual approach to raising money for a teaching mortuary.

 

A model for the new bookstore (essay)

Intellectual Affairs

“Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital,” George Orwell wrote in an early essay,  "any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop.… [Y]ou start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books.” It is “a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point.”

The work had its downsides, and Orwell’s candor made his assessment that much more credible. You should be prepared to accept extremely long hours, for example, and to deal with customers who are garrulous or insane or both. Worst of all, to work in a bookstore meant risking a distinct kind of burnout: “Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books [become] boring and even slightly sickening.” But the entrepreneur who carves out a suitable niche will at least be immune to monopolistic forces: “The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.”

Good advice -- for 1936, anyway. Today, any educated person hoping to earn a small secure living (or a tiny, insecure one, for that matter)  would do better to try almost anything else. Or so I took as a given until a couple of weeks ago, when Tony Sanfilippo, the marketing and sales director for Penn State University Press, sketched out his conceptual blueprint for an offline bookstore of the not-too-distant future. (“Offline bookstore” seems like the very 2010s sort of expression.) I don’t know if his plan will turn the tide, but it certainly deserves more consideration than it’s received so far.

Writing at The Digital Digest, one of the Association of American University Presses's blogs, Sanfilippo proposed a new model for bookselling that recognizes how much many of us miss the opportunity to browse and loiter somewhere in three dimensional space. Rather than fighting the trends that have undermined bookstores, he incorporates them into his design.  And the product -- oddly enough – contains lost elements of 18th- and 19th-century book culture.

“Imagine you’re walking downtown,” he writes, “and you see a sign for a new business, That Book Place. Cool, you think to yourself, an idiot with money they apparently don’t need has opened a new bookstore in my community. I’m going to go check that out before it goes out of business. So you cross the street and walk in. In front is what you might expect, big stacks of The Hunger Games trilogy, a book of erotica for moms that appears to have something to do with the Pantone variations between PMS 400 and PMS 450, and a new cookbook teaching the virtues of artisanal water boiling.”

So far, so Borders (R.I.P.). Once past the bestsellers, you find an Espresso Book Machine, churning out volumes that customers have special-ordered. (In his post at Digital Digest, Sanfilippo indicates that three million titles are available for printing on demand, but in an e-mail note he tells me it’s actually seven million.)

That Book Place also has shelves and shelves carrying a mixture of new and used books, with price stickers giving the customer a variety of options. You can have a brand-new copy shipped to you the next day, or buy it used, or rent it, or get it as an e-book. If you take out a membership in the store, you can borrow a book for free, or get a copy without the Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme that limits it to use on a specific kind of device.

In effect, the bookstore becomes a combination lending library and product showroom. “The books in the store shouldn’t be the focus of the revenue,” writes Sanfilippo. “Instead, the revenue might come from membership fees, book rentals, and referral fees for drop shipped new copies or e-book sales.”

People who take out a membership in the store would become stakeholders in its success -- not just customers, but patrons. Under that arrangement, Sanfilippo says, “a publisher might have a reason to trust the store and those members with DR-free files.” And the flexibility of options for acquiring a book -- whether for keeps or to borrow -- might undercut the consumer practice of browsing at a brick-and-mortar store, then buying online.

As someone who’s purchased a fair number of books in print-on-demand editions, I’ll add that ordering one in a store sounds more appealing than doing so online. You’d get it faster, for one thing, with the bonus of being able to watch as the book is made.

Well into the 18th century, when you bought a new volume from a bookseller, it arrived from the publisher without a binding, to be prepared on the premises according to the customer’s specifications. You could ask to have blank pages interspersed throughout it, for example, for note-taking -- one casualty of progress worth regretting. Sanfilippo’s model takes us back to that arrangement, at least part of the way. The quality of on-demand printing is not up to handcraft standards, but it's certainly improved over time. (In the case of late 19th-century books, the on-demand copy is often more durable than the original.) 

Sanfilippo's proposal also resembles the circulating or subscription libraries that flourished in the 19th century. You'd join the library for a fee that gave you access to the collection. But as we discussed his bookstore model by e-mail, Sanfilippo indicated the seed for it might have been planted by something his mother did as a child.

“The Chicago suburban subdivision I grew up in was supposed to have a library in it,” he wrote. “On the end of our block, the developer promised to build a library building for the community, but, after the last house sold, the developer skipped town and left a vacant lot. My mother and a few other parents in the neighborhood figured there had to be another way.”

And there was: “They petitioned and got a referendum on the ballot to start a library district -- a taxing body specifically for a library. They succeeded and that library still serves that community. But how do you then appropriate that kind of revenue stream for a bookstore?… A business that sells shares of itself to its customers is not unlike a group of parents that tax themselves, and in this instance, both are to ensure access to books and book culture within a community.”

In short, That Book Place might function best if were run as a nonprofit enterprise or a co-op -- perhaps both. It's no substitute for decently funded public libraries, of course, but try getting a tax for anything but a stadium passed these days. The arrangement Sanfilippo proposes might not work out for any number of reasons, and he admits as much. The hardware for in-store book production alone runs into six figures.

But that hardly seems like an insurmountable obstacle for people willing to experiment and able to take the risk. As experimental initiatives for public-minded institutions go, Sanfilippo's idea seems like a natural. And the return on investment might be of incalculable benefit. 

IRS revokes exemption for housing-focused fraternity foundation

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IRS revokes tax-exempt status of an organization created to help a liberal arts college fraternity renovate its house.

Conference on PILOT agreements highlights lack of formal policy

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Formal rules surrounding agreements on payments in lieu of taxes are rare, so local politics determine who pays and how much.

Chester College will shut down

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Struggling arts institution couldn't raise enough money to deal with deficit and enrollment decline.

Texas Tops Money-Making Athletic Departments

The University of Texas at Austin's athletics department brought in upwards of $150 million in revenue in 2010-11, more than any other institution and nearly $19 million more than its closest competitor, Ohio State University. The latest annual update to USA Today’s mammoth database on revenue and expenses at institutions in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association notes that just 22 athletic departments are operating in the black. Spending across the 227 public universities for which USA Today could gather data rose by $267 million from a year earlier. (Athletic success at Texas will have some payoff for the institution's academic side, which for the next five years will collect half the profits from its 24-hour cable channel, the Longhorn Network. Last year that amounted to $6 million.) Other top revenue-generating programs include the Universities of Alabama ($124.5 million), Florida ($123.5 million) and Michigan ($122.7 million), as well as Pennsylvania State University ($116.1 million), the Universities of Tennessee ($104.4 million) and Oklahoma ($104.3 million), Auburn University ($104 million) and the University of Wisconsin ($96.3 million).

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