Textbook Economics: Winning the Cost Battle Through Digital Tools

The benefits of inclusive access

Faced with rising costs of higher education, many students are deciding not to purchase required course materials, therefore going through their semester without the tools they need to learn and succeed. Fifty percent of students say avoiding or delaying these purchases negatively impacts their grades. As a result, more institutions are taking advantage of digital tools and platforms, which provide students and faculty with immersive, engaging content while providing required materials to all students on or before the first day of classes at a lower cost. 

This web seminar discussed some of the benefits of these digital platforms for institutions, faculty and students, as well as strategies for implementing digital course materials on any campus. Presenters discussed key findings of a survey about the topic, and highlighted case study examples from three different institutions that are using digital course materials successfully.


Nathan Richter


Wakefield Research

Mike Hale

VP, Education


Nathan Richter: People everywhere, not just students, are increasingly tech dependent in nearly every aspect of their lives, so it’s only natural for students to expect that lifestyle to extend to their educational experiences. Through the years we’ve seen a substantial and consistent decrease in the amount of time students can go without a digital fix. In 2015, 44 percent of students could go only a maximum of 10 minutes without using digital technology. This year we find that number has spiked to roughly 60 percent. Even for people such as ourselves who pay attention to these things every day, to see that degree of shift, that degree of change over a short period of time, is pretty impressive, and pretty interesting, and pretty unique in the marketplace.

Another aspect of the research was whether colleges are meeting students’ expectations with technology. We’ve found that they have become less satisfied with the tools their campuses offer, and that drop in satisfaction remained consistent this year compared to our 2016 survey. Over the course of just a few years, the number saying they are less satisfied with technology in their classroom has actually doubled.

That’s obviously a problem that’s in need of solutions, and one of the several solutions we explored in the research was students’ feelings about tools such as digital textbooks. Overwhelmingly, students feel their performance would improve by using a digital rather than a traditional textbook. That suggests an unmet need, and if that need were met it would potentially increase student satisfaction with technology.

This year only slightly more than one-third of students reported performing better in online rather than in-person courses, and that’s down from 51 percent in 2015 and 41 percent in 2016. That’s another proof point for dissatisfaction with technology.

Digital technology matters. Students feel it could improve their grades. They ultimately feel that the current campus technology experience is not up to par. That’s the main takeaway from these data points, and it’s also corroborated by other parts of the research.

Mike Hale: Eighty-five percent of students are delaying or avoiding purchasing course materials, and for 91 percent, it’s because of cost. Even more important is that 50 percent of those students know that not getting the materials will negatively affect their grades. This is about student success as much as it’s about affordability. The nice thing about this is that if you provide students with the content on day one, you can make it affordable, and the result is that they can be more successful.

How do you significantly lower the cost of learning materials and ensure students get them at the beginning of the course? The simple answer is with inclusive access, which does exactly that.

An inclusive-access model is super simple. If an institution decides that they want to provide course materials for all students on day one, the publishers are willing to provide a price at very significant savings. You’re solving two important problems: student success and affordability.

The student experience for inclusive access is simple. Instead of going to the college bookstore or going online, all they do is they go to class and log into their LMS course. The professor has said on day one, read chapter 13. They click on chapter 13 and it opens. That’s all they do.

They’re then sent a message: “At the end of the drop/add period, if you choose to keep the text then you’ll be billed X dollars,” which is the most competitive price in the market. If they don’t want it, they can opt out and the content will be removed. We’re seeing opt-out rates of less than 5 percent, because students see that it’s saving them money and they like having the content on day one.

From a faculty perspective, they can get going in the coursework on day one, as opposed to doing things that don’t involve the core content because they’re not sure if the students have it.

At University of Missouri, almost 20,000 of their 75,000 students have inclusive-access courses, and in those courses they’re saving approximately $67 per title for a total savings of $7 million since 2014. At Hinds Community College in Mississippi, more than 1,000 sections have offered course materials on day one, and the average savings for each student is about $650 a year, with virtually zero opt-outs.

There’s a negotiation with the publishers, and they are very willing to provide content at an affordable rate as long as every student gets it. The economics of it are that the publisher puts millions of dollars into creating a textbook. In the books’ first semester they sell a lot of titles, but in the next semester most of the copies sold are used and the publisher doesn’t get paid. Therefore they have to keep increasing the price. Whereas the inclusive access model allows publishers to continue to develop high-quality, commercial-grade content without increasing the price to make up for the fact that nobody’s buying it after the first year.

Inclusive access works for everybody in the model.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit www.universitybusiness.com/ws120717


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