Equitable Access Programs give students Day One access to all necessary digital and physical course materials--here's how to make yours a success

10 best practices for an Equitable Access Program

Equitable Access Programs give students Day One access to all necessary digital and physical course materials--here's how to make yours a success

Three Rivers College started its Equitable Access Program, named the Resource Fee, with the 2021 Summer session. Resource Fee allows students immediate access to all required digital and physical course materials on the first day of classes, including textbooks, online access to digital course materials through Blackboard, lab kits, required course supplies, as well as many other resources.

This new feature allows students to know at the time of registration their complete costs for all items required in their courses for more effective financial planning and management.

How to Start an Equitable Access Program:

  1. Assess the Possibility of Starting a Program at Your College or University.
    Equitable Access is a program that charges a flat rate fee per credit hour or per semester for all required course materials that the students will need on day one of class. This fee is in lieu of individually charged course materials fees and is the same for all students regardless of major. Before you can start a program, determine if it is operationally and politically possible to implement at your school. You will need the support of key players, such as the President, CFO, Chief Academic Officer, and all key academic, operational, and financial constituents that can facilitate or hinder the creation of a program.
  2. Learn from the Experts. Research and learn from other colleges and universities that have implemented Equitable Access Programs by searching within their website for information published about their program. Email questions to those people responsible for managing those programs. Learn from the experts–those with successful programs.
  3. Work with National Association of College Stores Vice President of Government Relations. This office holder is helpful in many aspects of Equitable Access Program development, including development of an opt-out policy. Determine whether the school will allow students to be automatically opted-in, and what the policy will be for opt-out. If you cannot start with a program with all students automatically opted-in, then it will be harder to set it up as a fee at registration.
  4. Run the Numbers. You will be replacing all revenue coming from all required course material sales for a year, from textbooks, rental, digital, and maybe required course supplies such as physical lab kits, course packs, workbooks, uniforms, and anything else that is required for a class. To calculate your per hour fee, total all the course material sales for a year, add in the cost of offering free shipping, and divide that number by the total number credit hours generated in a year. That will provide you an estimated fee per credit hour.
  5. Design Your Program. Assess the current mix of course materials sales. How many purchase books, rental, digital, and course supplies? What is the percentage of sales for each of those in a year? Assess your ability to manage each of those course material categories in an Equitable Access Program. Do you have the technology to manage and track those materials through your current course materials system and POS provider? Will the current mix of course materials be included in your program? Some schools move to a digital-first approach if tracking physical course materials is too much to manage. Will you have free online shipping for all physical course materials in the program? Work with internal people at your school setting up the mechanics of the program, how it will work at registration, and the financial flow of the revenue since that will have to offset the expenses for the course materials.

How to Manage a Successful Equitable Access Program:

  1. How to Market Your Program to Students. The more robust your program is for students, the more acceptance it will receive from students. Marketing bullet points include convenience, everything included in tuition and fees, Day One Access for all students in all degree programs, scan-and-go for physical course materials, log-in-and-learn for digital, and free shipping for all physical course materials through students’ course materials websites. Marketing of the price should be avoided as counterproductive.
  2. How to Manage Physical Course Materials. Many programs at the university level with high enrollments implement a digital-first approach, often 75 percent or more being digital course materials. Use of digital materials involves less labor and initial course materials costs. This would average to a lower Equitable Access fee per student. However, use of primarily physical course materials is workable in an Equitable Access Program if the recycling of those materials is maximized each semester. In these cases, it is best if your course materials system uses serial barcodes, integrated with your POS system, so you can scan and track those course materials to individual students. Require the return of all physical course materials, but only fine and charge students for course materials that can be reused semester to semester, if those materials are not returned by the student. A message of recycling everything is a positive environmental message.
  3. How to Manage Digital Course Materials. There are several digital billing and publisher access providers, such as Redshelf and Vital Source, amongst others. Choose your current provider or one that can successfully integrate with your school’s Learning Management System. When the provider bills is critical to the success of your program–generally the later the better. It should not be before the drop date with a refund for students, or, even more effectively, at Census, when students’ credit hour enrollment is locked in for financial aid purposes, normally around a month after classes start. Have a process in place that determines the accuracy of the digital billing by comparing to actual current enrollment for every student in every class in the program. Details matter!
  4. How to Manage Required Course Supplies. Required course supplies can be physical labs, uniforms, or other supplies. Serialize barcode what you can of these supplies and require the return of anything reusable. However, some supplies or books may be checked-out until graduation, such as in nursing. Have a policy that says you recycle everything, because sometime those items come back unused, and you can reuse them for the next student.
  5. How to Manage the Money. Make sure the per credit hour fee is set up so the revenue is credited to the college store revenue budget account. If the college store is paying the invoices for course materials, you will need to offset those expenses against revenue, and gauge how well your program is doing financially. When you are setting the fee students will pay per credit hour, it is best to be too high rather than too low, then next year you can decrease the fee. Follow the money and you can have a successful Equitable Access Program.

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