Prior to the Internet and eCommerce capabilities, college students had limited choices when it came to obtaining their textbooks: they either bought textbooks and course materials from the campus bookstore or they went without, the latter a somewhat unlikely choice given the relative affordability of textbooks in the past.
Fast forward to more recent history and, while most students can still buy from the campus bookstore, off-campus retailers like Amazon, eBay, and other platforms have captured more and more textbook sales by offering students lower prices and more convenient shopping options.
However, even through this innovation and market competition the unfortunate option remains: students going without course materials, choosing not to purchase because of prohibitive costs. According to one study, 7 in 10 university students have chosen not to buy a textbook due to the high price.
For anyone in higher education, students going without their course materials leads to obvious concerns. How can a student adequately learn, contribute, and succeed without direct access to knowledge?
The answer is pretty simple: they can’t.
With student and university success so closely linked, this also spells a challenge for institutions. As students fall behind due to being unequipped with what they need to succeed, they drop out and leave campus, taking tuition dollars with them. As schools are faced with student attrition concerns, the direct result is a compounding challenge for universities.
Add up all the students who’ve dropped out year after year and multiply this by the lost tuition, room and board, and alumni contributions. Add to that the cost of recruiting new students to take their place. Consider the unknown cost of public perception or university rankings when a high dropout rate affects the university’s performance.
Do the math and the proportion of this problem becomes apparent.
A solution for students and universities emerges
As universities compete more aggressively to attract and retain students and identify growth opportunities, student-centric policies have become a greater priority for university finance leaders. One particularly popular solution that has gained traction is inclusive access (IA), a system in which course materials are automatically provided to students.
For those unfamiliar with IA, the basic premise is that at the start of each term, students automatically have full access to textbooks and course content, materials that are usually fully or partially included in tuition costs. Instead of needing to research, coordinate, and purchase online or in the campus bookstore, students immediately have what they need on day one, avoiding the chance of delays or accidentally purchasing an incorrect, outdated, or customized version.
From a finance perspective, inclusive access captures 90%+ of the course materials revenue for the given class (or classes) in which they are adopted. Instead of losing sales to Amazon or other outside entities, universities regain this consistent revenue stream while obtaining better prices for their students. At a time when college bookstores’ sales are down 15-35%, inclusive access provides promise to concerned administrators.
Through IA, it is only possible for a student to go without textbooks if they choose to opt out of the program, which, in our experience, happens less than 10% of the time. For the university, this means a campus filled with prepared students who are pleased with the absorbed or reduced cost of course materials—and a reclaimed revenue stream.
Students at universities that implemented inclusive access will never find themselves among the 7 in 10 students who have failed to purchase materials due to cost. Instead, they’ll have the textbooks and course materials they need to learn and succeed. As more evidence points to the causal relationship between university policy and student success, policies such as inclusive access give students the best chance to become future alumni.
What does it take to implement inclusive access?
I became a believer in inclusive access through firsthand experience, leading the implementation of an inclusive access program back in 2006 for a number of degree programs I managed. Recognizing the importance of student-centric policies and financial sustainability, inclusive access became an easy choice.
Together with faculty, the bursar, and other administration members, our university adopted inclusive access and saw results that resonated throughout the campus and university financials. While making the choice to automatically provide course materials to students was an easy one, implementation was a slightly more difficult scenario.
Implementing inclusive access requires connecting and coordinating a multitude of teams (both internal and external), technologies, and timelines. Figuring out how to seamlessly automate the process, integrate technology, and engage those who need to be involved can lead a university to briefly consider inclusive access—and then decide there must be another alternative.
However, from my own career in higher ed, I know it takes building consensus within the administration and faculty communities for a change like inclusive access. Gaining buy-in is a vital first step towards implementation, building a team of internal advocates who understand the value and outcome of inclusive access. From there, it takes working with publishers and the institution’s bookstore partner to identify what happens next.
Typically, universities first roll out IA to a single department or a handful of classes, ideally at the beginning of a new semester, and eventually expand to other parts of the university. Often, IA is a natural choice for select disciplines; providing inclusive access to STEM students with expensive textbooks likely makes sense, but universities should analyze departments and courses to ensure relevance.
Navigating the transition to inclusive access, even for a single department, requires considerable time and effort. Uniting decision-makers, building consensus, navigating technology integrations and aligning with university policy takes coordination and motivated teams.
While IA may not be an overnight solution or a quick fix, it does provide the long-term value, sustainable growth, and student-centric approach that address the greatest challenges facing most universities and their financial health, along with the success of their students.
The future of course materials, student satisfaction, and university sustainability
While the barriers to adopting inclusive access may sound challenging, this method of course material delivery is likely an inevitable solution for most universities, especially those that have done the math on the cost of losing students, decreasing bookstore revenue, and changing public perception.
As more universities implement these programs, other universities will have to respond to this change in expectations or be left behind. By exploring and implementing inclusive access, your university can adopt to the changing materials landscape and recapture the revenue and enrollment numbers you’ve been missing.
During these more complex steps, this is where Akademos provides value, guidance, and implementation. For Akademos clients such as Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the University of South Dakota, inclusive access means a unique advantage that ensures long-term sustainability and student satisfaction. The numbers add up, no matter which way you work them.
To learn more about inclusive access and its fit for your university, contact us here to discover more.