Outsourcing Course Materials: Perception vs Reality (Ambassador Article Published in Career Education Review)

Ten Considerations When Selecting a Course Materials Partner

The course materials landscape is ever-changing, whether through emerging technologies, greater diversity of resources, evolving student expectations, or increased emphasis on textbook affordability. As institutions assess their internal capabilities and what’s in their students’ best interests, many are turning to outsourcing to address course materials competencies and costs. Specifically, outsourcing has the power to deliver simpler, more effective, and more affordable pathways.

The course materials supply chain has a lot of moving parts. Institutions who manage it in-house need staff and resources to handle everything from booklist management and print and digital inventory, to orders and fulfillment, returns and opt-outs, support, financial reconciliation, and reporting.

From a technological perspective, these same institutions need to make sure their systems are integrated and talk to each other. Student, course, and course materials information must flow between the school’s SIS, LMS, Course Materials Platform, and financial systems for seamless access and transaction transparency. Yet, the management and maintenance can be a lot for a school’s IT team to shoulder.  Additionally, with digital materials on the rise, institutions need to ensure students have easy access to eBooks and courseware as well as the necessary devices. They are tasked with managing license terms, assigning access durations, eliminating duplicates, tracking opt-outs, and more.

The pros of outsourcing course materials are many when it comes to improving operational efficiencies and saving money, yet some institutions still grapple with the uncertainty of relinquishing control and the misconceptions of increased costs.

Operational Control
Some institutions like to have a hand in course materials operations, while others prefer to provide student and booklist information and then turn the management over to a partner. In reality, outsourcing empowers the institution to maintain its desired level of control. Flexibility and customization in an outsource partner are key and it’s important that expectations are set up front. After all, faculty need academic freedom to choose the right materials, and institutions need a say in things like the overall design of a program, student marketing and communication, and pricing, including whether the school wants to generate revenue from course materials.

Process Efficiencies
Sometimes the assumption of another cook in the kitchen only complicates things. Yet when a course materials partner handles the adoption, management, delivery and access for all course materials, it frees the institution to dedicate more time and resources towards other institutional priorities. For example, a course materials partner can oversee system integration and maintenance, which relieves stress on an institution’s IT infrastructure. A course materials partner also does the heavy lifting when it comes to working with publishers to secure materials, managing inventory, processing orders and shipments, handling returns and opt-outs, posting to the student ledger, and offering a direct line of support to help students and faculty navigate the process.

Additionally, institutions are up front about the fact that they can’t always adequately track all the data they need to verify usage and transactions, in part because data often lives in different silos across campuses. A course materials partner can aggregate large amounts of verifiable data and deliver customized reports so the institution sees exactly which students are accessing which materials, ensuring accurate payments.

Cost Savings
There is an element of financial risk when an institution operates its own course materials program. There are obvious and predictable costs including personnel, facility, technology, student support, maintenance and more, as well as variable costs, including inventory. Inventory often can be the largest expense for an institution, especially if it must outlay cash for the entire inventory ordered, compared to paying only for items delivered to and/or accessed by students. Doing a total cost of ownership analysis will help an institution weigh its costs and better gauge the financial benefits of outsourcing.

The reality is that outsourcing can cost less.  Having a partner that streamlines processes and simplifies workflows can lower institutional costs so those savings can be passed on to students. A course materials partner also can help an institution save money by fronting initial inventory costs, helping set the student sell price, ensuring students who access the same materials across more than one term or course don’t pay twice, and reconciling actual usage and fees to avoid overpayment.

Ten Considerations for Selecting a Course Materials Partner
The decision to outsource should not be taken lightly. It’s important to select a partner that can remain flexible to adapt to the institution’s changing needs and scale with its growth over time. When assessing competencies, consider a course materials partner that:

  1. Manages and maintains automated, seamless integrations and customizations through a centralized interface for simple, straightforward access to materials and data
  2. Has the financial controls in place to verify actual usage and fees, ensuring students and schools only pay for materials used
  3. Delivers comprehensive digital materials management, including licenses, access durations (non-expiring, semester-based, or census-based), returns, opt-outs and device programs
  4. Has a proven track record powering Inclusive Access and Equitable Access programs, including opt-out capabilities, so students get the materials they need by the first day of class
  5. Focuses on textbook affordability through complete transparency and gives the institution all the necessary information to establish the right pricing
  6. Provides real-time, reliable analytics, custom reports and consolidated invoices that are available in one location for easier access and analysis
  7. Offers user-friendly adoption tools to help faculty compare course materials, understand affordability options, and get real-time updates on out-of-stock or missing items
  8. Maintains true dedicated inventory based on enrollment, which is not shared with other schools or marketplace purchases so it is readily available and can be easily reassigned
  9. Integrates controls that prevent students from purchasing duplicate materials and locks down materials for students who have opted-out
  10. Provides unmatched, dedicated service to students, reflecting the institution’s values

About the Author
Michelle acts as a trusted voice on behalf of Ambassador’s clients, focusing on new product initiatives and integrations with an eye toward high quality student and school course materials experiences that are customizable, configurable and scalable.

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