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Willmar, Minn., campus abuzz ahead of Monday start: Ridgewater starts year with new textbook options for students

Jory Bulthuis, 18, of Willmar fills out an agreement for one of his rented textbooks Friday as he checks out with cashier Mona Nordby at the Ridgewater College bookstore. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- Students at Ridgewater College this fall will be able to rent some textbooks for about half the cost of buying one.

It's one of the new features offered by the college's bookstore, along with e-books.

Classes start Monday on the college's Willmar and Hutchinson campuses.

Ridgewater is 50 years old this year, and planning some big parties. A community celebration and alumni reunion is planned for Sept. 24 at the Willmar campus. A similar celebration will be Oct. 15 in Hutchinson.

The past week brought a "buzz" on campus that is energizing for those who have worked on a quieter campus all summer, said Sam Bowen, the college's communications director.

After student orientation sessions earlier in the week, the faculty and staff gathered for training on Thursday and Friday.

The preliminary enrollment estimate for the Willmar campus was 2,473 late this week, but that number will keep changing for the next two weeks while students come and go and add or drop classes.

Bowen said the number appears to be down from a year ago, but it may be difficult to pinpoint a cause for a drop in enrollment. Enrollment can be cyclical, he said, and it can be affected by the economy. If layoffs are lower, fewer people will be going back to school for retraining, he said.

Bookstore manager Judy Meyering said about 23 titles are available for rent this fall. "We're starting small" with the program, she said, but if it works out well, it could be expanded in the future.

Students pay about half the cost of a new textbook to rent one for the semester. "There's hardly been a student who hasn't done it," she said. Book costs for a semester can be $500 or more, depending on the classes a student takes.

Some e-books are available, too. They are a bit less expensive than a new textbook, but they don't offer the savings of the rental option.

Teachers and students are excited about the new options, Meyering said, as is the store's staff. "I have two students in college; I know about book costs," she added.

Instructors look out for the students' pocketbooks where they can.

Some instructors order loose-leaf texts instead of bound books, Meyering said. They cost less, and the bookstore stocks inexpensive binders for students who don't have one already.

Others have developed manuals for their own classes, and they are sold to students for the cost of the paper and ink needed to make a copy.

"We're exploring new ways all the time," she said.

In addition, a new computer system allows students to charge their book purchases to their financial aid through the store's register.

The bookstore has a large display of Ridgewater clothing in the school colors of red and silver, complemented by white and black. The most popular item has been black sweat pants with large lettering down the leg, said assistant manager Kathy Bengtson.

The store also offers individual pens and pencils, so customers can try them out.

"We try to provide just about anything and everything," Bengtson said.

Students in other college programs will be able to study for an entrepreneurship certificate this year. The certificate will provide training for students who want to start their own businesses after completing their diplomas. Bowen said it should be helpful for students studying things like auto body, photography and carpentry.

The college encourages students to "like" the school's Facebook page and to sign up for its text messaging system. Both are good ways to stay up to date with campus events, and the text messaging will be used to notify students in emergency situations or during bad weather.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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