Booksmart reps: FAU bookstore has dishonest textbook pricing practices

Booksmart alleges that FAU and Follett Higher Education Group Inc. are falsely advertising cheaper services to students.


Nicholas Windfelder

Booksmart is located on NW 20th St. before Dixie Highway. You can get there from the NW 20th St. campus exit between UVA and FAU High.

Jessica Abramsky, News Editor

A family-owned off-campus bookstore is accusing the corporate-owned on-campus bookstore of lying to FAU students- and violating federal law.

Booksmart representatives believe that Follett Higher Education Group, who pays FAU more than $1 million a year to run a bookstore on the Boca Raton campus, has violated Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 by falsely advertising discounted textbook prices to students. However, the representatives also believe FAU Bookstore prices are above the national retail price.

Follett provides textbook services to schools and pays FAU for the FAU Bookstore space. Booksmart employees say that the FAU Bookstore is really a Follett bookstore.

FAU is one of many Florida schools that Follett partnered with. Florida State University, University of Florida, and University of Miami, among others, also use Follett services. Follett also holds contracts with some Florida K-12 schools, including Pine Crest School, a private school with campuses in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale.

“I think they’re in violation of the Higher Education Act because the law states that if a financial aid student is going to obtain books through an access program like this, that those course materials must be discounted below market rate,” said Booksmart manager Jay Slone.

Students cannot use federal financial aid at Booksmart. FAU allows students to fill out a form to authorize the use of their federal financial aid to make purchases, which Slone refers to as a “line of credit.”

Chapter 1004.085 of the Florida Statutes, known as the “Textbook Affordability and Transparency Act,” requires universities to accurately publish 95% of course materials online and publicly accessible at least 45 days before the first day of class. 

FAU’s website states that prices are up to 40% cheaper than the national retail price. However, a UP analysis of the 85 most purchased textbooks and access codes from Booksmart shows that purchasing the items from Booksmart is about 8% cheaper than buying the same item at FAU Bookstore. This analysis does not include the delivery fee for access codes charged by Follett, which is $3 or $4. Booksmart does not charge a delivery fee.

“So that’s where the legality of it comes in. That kind of made me think I need to report this because it’s wrong. It certainly is morally wrong to tell students they’re getting a discount when they’re not,” Slone said.

When the UP contacted Follett executive Kevin Renshaw, he said he would connect the UP with the appropriate contact to answer some questions and never did. The UP followed up with him six weeks later and Follett’s media relations team did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Student Government President Pierce Kennamer and SG Vice President Dalia Calvillo did not respond to requests for comment.

Follett’s ACCESS program does not always offer reduced pricing for students, Slone said. Occasionally, Booksmart cannot compete with an inclusive access product. 

“In those cases, we tell students ‘Oh, just opt-in and get that through the campus store.’ But those are pretty rare, where we have a situation where a student cannot get their course materials from us for less,” Slone said.

On Dec. 14, 2022, Slone emailed FAU’s Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer Donovan Diaz to inform him of pricing inconsistencies. Slone got a response from Diaz six days later thanking him for the information and stating his office would investigate. 

Diaz sent the UP’s interview request to the Division of Public Affairs. FAU spokesperson Joshua Glanzer later canceled two interviews on short notice, on behalf of Diaz. Glanzer did not respond to the UP’s requests to reschedule.

Slone registered as a non-degree seeking student at FAU for the Spring 2023 semester to get a better understanding of the process to get class materials and view the language, used by FAU and Follett.

He registered for three courses to gather information, then dropped them so he wasn’t taking spots from students who needed the classes.

Slone later got an email about purchasing materials needed for his courses. He got a list of special prices for his course materials when he clicked on the “Follett Customer Portal.”

He found a mixed bag of sorts some books were more expensive in the portal, while others were less expensive.

Slone says that students who decide what section of a class to take based on the cost of materials are struggling to save money. 

“For students who are trying to budget which section of a class to take based on the cost of course materials it is very problematic especially if they want to try to find better prices elsewhere. It’s also problematic for Booksmart if we don’t know correct selling prices as we strive to offer better alternatives,” Slone wrote. “One purpose of that law is so students are empowered to save money by shopping around.”

He said that 100% of the Inclusive Access course materials were incorrect on the FAU campus store’s website, and Follett has an obligation to adhere to state law, per their contract.

Jessica Abramsky is the News Editor for the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Jessica at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @jessabramsky.