If you’ve been following the higher education press, you’ve likely noticed the coverage of the many issues surrounding inclusive access course materials programs. While the intentions behind inclusive access programs are good, when they are not handled correctly, the results can be detrimental, from increased pricing and elimination of student choice, to non-compliance with applicable regulations.
Inclusive access requirements appear to be quite simple, but implementation can be difficult without the necessary controls in place. Under an inclusive access program, students who are enrolled in a particular course automatically receive their required course materials (print, digital, and all other items) prior to the start of class. The cost of the materials is either bundled with students’ tuition fees or billed as a separate resource or materials fee. Regulations require that students have the option to opt-out/decline most course materials, freeing them to choose to purchase materials on their own.
Herein lies the challenge. When students are told they can’t opt-out without a reason or when the path to opt-out is so confusing that they have difficulty completing it, the entire process backfires. As an industry whose sole mission is built around helping students succeed, barricading the opt-out process not only goes against regulatory compliance, it goes against everything education technology is capable of.
Keep in mind, inclusive access is, at its core, about access. When executed in a clear and compliant way, inclusive access presents a great value proposition. Since students don’t have to do any more than register for a course, automatically receiving course materials by day one of class is easy and stress-free. Plus, more students purchasing more materials means most publishers can offer a lower price point.
As an industry, we spend a lot of time focused on access and affordability for students, and that’s a good thing. But providing “choice” for students also should be a priority. It’s up to us to educate students on their options and provide them with the path of least resistance – as most students embrace simplicity. Yet at the end of the day, we should empower them with the knowledge to make that choice. Opt-out functionality facilitates student choice.
Here are some valuable lessons on how to deliver inclusive access programs with flexible and compliant opt-out functionality that works as it was intended for all course materials, including digital content:
- Let students opt-out easily:The opt-out process needs to be clear and accessible – the simpler the action, the better. Students should be able to easily complete the opt-out and have access to information and support services to make sure they understand the details.
- Let students know when they are not permitted to opt out:There are permitted exceptions to the opt-out rule, which must be applied and explained to students. It should be made clear under which circumstances students are not permitted to opt-out because their required course materials are considered unique to the school and unobtainable through other means (e.g., faculty-designed custom packages of content), as well as those course materials that could be considered a health or safety concern (e.g., any equipment, chemicals or other materials that could pose a risk and/or must meet strict standards).
- Let students opt-out of publisher direct content:The process can get blurry when it comes to digital course materials, and specifically publisher direct content as there are various ways students access those materials. Schools must comply with opt-out regulations and students must have the ability to opt-out of all Inclusive access publisher direct content regardless if delivered via LMS link or access code.
- Let students change their opt-out status:Students can and do change their minds. For example, some courses require the same materials term after term. Students should have the ability to opt-out of receiving those materials for some or all terms. Also, students should be allowed to easily reverse the opt-out (opt back in) at any given time to gain access to their resources.
Although few students actually opt-out of automatically receiving their course materials because of the low-cost and high-convenience factors, this doesn’t mean the opt-out process should be an afterthought. For all intents and purposes, knowing they have the choice to opt-out is perhaps as meaningful to students as the overall ease of acquiring course materials.
While there may be challenges with inclusive access programs when they aren’t administered properly, correctly implementing inclusive access offers valuable benefits to schools and students:
- Inclusive access is timely.We have seen that when students are prepared for class with materials on day one, this can significantly improve completion and retention rates.
- Inclusive access is affordable.We have seen how this approach addresses concerns around students dropping and/or deferring courses because of the cost of materials.
- Inclusive access is choice-driven.We have seen students exercise their right to opt-out and easily complete the process.
About the Author:
Michelle has more than 20 years of project and program management experience leading enterprise-wide efforts to launch new processes, products and solutions. At Ambassador, she is vice president of Product Management and acts as a trusted voice of the client, focusing on new product initiatives and integrations with an eye toward high quality student and client experiences that are customizable, configurable and scalable.