The exorbitant costs of paying for college sometimes means that other priorities take a backseat. For students already struggling to pay tuition fees, necessities that help them succeed in college, such as textbooks, are often tossed out the window. In fact, one survey revealed that 65 percent of students had foregone buying a textbook because they couldn’t afford it—with 94 percent of those students admitting they were concerned it would hurt their grade in the course.

At hundreds of dollars a textbook, it’s easy to see why students would hope to skimp by on the lecture notes. But without crucial supplementary materials, they’re often setting themselves up for failure. Research by Barnes & Noble College found that 37 percent of students say they don’t feel prepared for the first day of class. Of those, 49 percent report they don’t have time to find course materials before the semester, while 23 percent say they couldn’t afford the materials.

The need for inclusive access programs

As Gen Z begins their college educations, universities are increasingly searching for solutions to lower the costs of course materials. Many meet that challenge with inclusive access models that shift reliance from more expensive print textbooks to digital course materials.

Related: Why do we still have basic textbooks in higher ed?

Where students were previously assigned textbooks to find and purchase on their own, schools can now provide discounted digital course materials to the entire class. Using this model, every student receives first-day-of-class access to their required course materials with the discounted costs included as part of their tuition. Hundreds of colleges have signed onto inclusive access models in recent years. But the question remains: Are inclusive access programs effective?

For many schools that have implemented this model, the answer is yes.

Community College of Baltimore County finds success using inclusive access

Community college students often face higher levels of unmet financial need. At Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), where we work as faculty members, we wanted to improve access for the 63,000 students on our main campus. This meant using an inclusive access model.

CCBC worked with Barnes & Noble College’s First Day program to develop timelines and courses, all while preparing the school’s learning management system (LMS) for an inclusive access program. The college enrolled a total of 646 students in 22 sections of an Intro to Sociology class in the Barnes & Noble College’s First Day inclusive access program, with less than one percent of students opting out of the program.

With this program in place, nearly the entire class had its required learning materials on day one. The participation rate in courses using First Day digital materials was 99.9 percent, offering an average savings for students upwards of 61 percent. Students, on average, saved approximately $65 per course with First Day—which meant that, in total, students saved more than $42,200 over one semester.

Additionally, 97 percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that they understood how to access the textbook from the instructor, the syllabus, or additional information posted in Blackboard. Even better, 86 percent agreed that having the textbook on the first day contributed to their success in the course. The initial success of First Day was so positive that CCBC is now expanding the program to six more classes—some with very large enrollments.

Inclusive access allows students to start on the right foot

That’s just one recent instance of an institution leveraging inclusive access programs to make education easier and more affordable for students. Many other schools have found success using the model, and it’s not hard to see why.

By providing access to materials earlier, universities empower students to conquer their courses immediately on the first day. These programs eliminate the guessing game that many students play in the first few weeks of class, when many deliberate whether it’s worth buying course materials or not. Even if they ultimately decide to buy, they often face long delays waiting for materials to arrive, meaning they are already falling behind before the semester barely begins.

If students have all the materials they need from the jump, universities eliminate a large barrier to success and let students start the semester on the right foot. In the end, student outcomes are better under the inclusive access model and college feels a bit more affordable to traditional and non-traditional students alike.

In the wake of rising barriers to education, institutions can leverage technology that allows students to not only afford opportunities to learn, but to learn more effectively. Inclusive access is not just a trend—it’s a model that’s changing how colleges can provide their students with the best tools to succeed.

About the Author:

Dr. Nelda Nix-McCray is an associate professor at the Community College of Baltimore (CCBC).

Nina Brown is a sociology instructor at CCBC.


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