Students today expect easy access to course materials, and it’s not an unreasonable expectation. We’ve heard from a significant number of students that they appreciate it when the required items are included in their course or program. It’s one less thing they have to think about.
As institutions continue to streamline the course materials process to address ease of use, Inclusive Access and Equitable Access models offer a convenient and measurable pathway. Inclusive Access and Equitable Access are growing in awareness and usage, not only improving availability and affordability but also having a quantifiable impact on student retention and success.
Inclusive Access and Equitable Access aim for simplicity. Students only have to enroll in their courses to automatically receive their materials by the first day of class, increasing the likelihood that more students will obtain materials. Students don’t have to shop around, and price points are lower. Fees are often bundled with tuition or included as separate resource fees.
It all seems like a win-win on the surface. Yet, if you lift the hood, you’ll find that it’s not always so clear-cut underneath. Yes, it’s simple for students, but what about for institutions?
While both Inclusive Access and Equitable Access ease the course materials process, there are subtle differences between the two models. Inclusive Access is handled at the course level and includes automatic access to digital materials, typically within the LMS. Equitable Access, on the other hand, is handled at the institution level and includes automatic access to all course materials required for the term, including print and digital, devices, OER, custom content, kits, supplies, scrubs and more.
Equally important to the success of both Inclusive Access and Equitable Access are financial controls and data analytics. Without the proper controls and reporting processes in place to create transparency, especially as it relates to digital materials, institutions find themselves struggling to reconcile actual usage with fees. The tragic result is overpayment for course materials.
Too often we’ve found that institutions are not focused on the data analytics behind Inclusive Access and Equitable Access programs because the reporting processes can be complex and time-intensive. Aggregating a tremendous amount of data across these programs and being able to centrally view and readily understand the information can be overwhelming. If institutions don’t possess these capabilities in-house, it’s important that they have a partner they can turn to for the necessary insights and data intelligence.
For starters, institutions need to know exactly which licenses and/or access codes have been redeemed by students. When they can accurately see what has been claimed, they gain a clear picture of actual digital usage and are not left to rely on and pay for the total number of licenses and codes in their inventory. No one should have to pay for licenses and codes that are not used, but unfortunately, it happens more often than one might think.
Institutions also need to be able to capture usage data for digital content durations, including non-expiring, semester-based, or census-based terms. This includes data around duplicate access for students who use the same content in more than one course or over more than one term without paying twice for it. Without this data readily available, institutions don’t know who used what and over what designated time. For example, when assessing its data, one of our university partners was able to save $300K in duplicate orders and $1.7M in overpayments. They did this by relying on comprehensive reports that aggregated numerous data sets with various filters, including campus, program, course, student, and item.
Institutions need to account for students who opt-out of receiving course materials too, assuming these students opt-out by the required deadline. Institutions can track opt-outs by student, course, or program and they can use this data to support regulatory compliance. The same holds true for students who drop courses or return items. Detailed reports not only identify students who should not be billed, but they also connect stakeholders to useful analytics for assessing and forecasting these trends.
Additionally, analytics can provide beneficial budget-related insights for the administrative staff, bursar’s office, and bookstore, giving them financial peace of mind. They can use data to validate publisher and content transactions against invoices, more accurately track eligible student aid, ensure the institution is covering its true costs, and even anticipate how those costs can change.
When looking at Inclusive Access and Equitable Access costs, some institutions pay publishers for digital licenses as they go, some pay based on projected enrollments, and others use a flat fee model, which assumes enrollments and adoptions stay consistent. The latter option doesn’t consider any unknowns like enrollment swings, nor does it adjust for students using the same content in multiple classes or students dropping or opting out of materials. Regardless of the institution’s payment model, aligning enrollments with actual usage will reveal what is owed so students are billed accurately and publishers are paid correctly.
Beyond usage and costs, data analytics can inform faculty if and how students are engaging with their digital materials. This not only helps faculty understand how the materials are supporting student learning, but it also triggers early warning signs if students are not effectively using materials and faculty need to intervene and offer extra support.
As Inclusive Access and Equitable Access continue to grow in size and scope, having the right reporting processes and financial controls in place can not only simplify course materials for institutions but also save them money. Analytics take away the guesswork around usage and fees so institutions can better maintain, manage, and measure these programs. Aligning data with durations, transactions, duplicates, opt-outs, and returns delivers the highest levels of financial transparency and keeps institutions from overpaying for materials.
About the Author
Kristen White, Vice President of Business Development, Ambassador Education Solutions
Kristen has spent two decades helping higher education and K-12 institutions evolve their bookstore and course materials fulfillment models. She helps Ambassador’s clients think strategically and creatively to implement simple, effective, and affordable course materials solutions.