The cost of postsecondary education, from tuition and living costs to technology requirements, can be a major barrier to learners and stand in the way of pursuing a degree or credential. It is well known, that pricey textbooks and course materials can add further strain to students’ limited budgets. Navigating a confusing and complex course materials marketplace to find the most affordable options wastes far too much time and energy and ends with most students either delaying or declining to acquire the materials they need.
This is a pervasive issue. From newly minted freshmen buying materials through their campus bookstore, to working adults pursuing degrees online, to students and instructors suddenly finding themselves in a virtual learning environment this year, we have seen the many ways course material affordability challenges take shape.
That’s why ensuring students get the course materials they need, wherever they are, and whenever they need it, affordably and accessibly, has always been a primary mission at VitalSource. We’ve invested heavily in intelligent technologies and smart business models that simplify the process of finding and accessing required digital course materials at the most affordable possible price for learners, faculty, and institutions.
By solving for access, we are also solving for affordability.
Sourcing the required course materials and comparing costs takes time and effort—as a result, many students often start class without the content they need. In fact, our studies show that 70% of students have delayed buying required textbooks or course materials because of cost, while 80% believe that having digital course materials easily available would have a positive impact on their grades. This fact is only heightened in the COVID-19 world.
As the higher-ed world faces disruption and upheaval to our collective known norms, it is critical that institutions and students are armed with an array of digital models to give easy and immediate access to the learning experiences they have so thoughtfully invested in.
From easy to “advanced,” here is the range of models you can invest in for this fall to bring affordability and access to more of your learners, whether they are on campus, at home, or somewhere in-between:
- Digital “Student Choice”
Traditionally, students are told which course materials are assigned to their courses. Students buy materials from the campus store or any other vendor and decide whether they want their materials in new, used, rental or digital formats. Institutions that want to ensure students are able to pay less for course materials and access interactive digital content should embrace digital options for all required materials.
We also provide e-Commerce systems that enable campus stores provide access to digital materials. This can be a very affordable option for students because it allows them to use financial aid dollars for course materials.
- Inclusive Access
Inclusive Access (IA) gives students the ability to discover, manage, and purchase digital content on day one of class, at the lowest price possible, all within the Learning Management System (LMS). With this model, VitalSource handles the difficult pricing negotiations with publishers ensuring the lowest possible price, saving the institution time, and saving students money. Students also have the choice to opt in/opt out at the course level and materials they choose to keep are billed to their student account or financial aid through the Bursar’s office.
Maximum Inclusive Access: Many institutions are pursuing what we call “MAX-IA” as a means of being resilient to the uncertainty created by COVID-19. Institutions that have offered Inclusive Access at the course-level may consider evolving to a full Inclusive Access experience for all courses and majors. With a Max IA digital distribution strategy, students in any learning environment have immediate, guaranteed access to the most affordable version of their required course materials.
- Equitable Access Programs
With Equitable Access (EA), students pay a single, affordable flat fee for access to all required course materials for the term. By default, anything that can be provided digitally will be provided digitally, but all physical materials are also provided to students as part of the EA program. All required materials are made available to students on the first day of class via the LMS, or via in-store pickup or shipping for physical materials.
In an EA program, course material purchases flow through the university, giving schools the ability to negotiate substantially lower, bulk rate pricing. Students can use financial aid funds to cover the cost of course materials, saving those funds for students and the institution. Students have the choice to opt-in or opt-out at the program level for all their materials.
Equitable Access programs can also be provided to institutions at no charge to students when course materials are included in tuition and fees.
- Subscription-Based Programs
The Subscription Model gives a variety of pricing and content access options. Institutions and content providers can create affordable collections of course materials customized to meet specific program needs. Students have access to a wider range of academic content within their courses and programs. Subscriptions open up flexibility across all collection models and use-cases: library discovery, institutional adoptions, and subscription sales.
With this expansive slate of options, VitalSource is working to meet the needs of both institutions and students. Every institution is unique, and at your own stage in the digital maturity journey. The pressure to solve for access and affordability and retain academic freedom and choice is ever more acute. A wide range of models and flexible distribution platforms is necessary to support you and your students, wherever you may be, on the path to easy and immediate access to affordable digital course materials for all.
VitalSource has led the way in providing innovative student affordability solutions to the global higher education community since our beginnings. We remain committed to working with our industry partners across higher education to continuously deliver on that promise and level the playing field with affordable access for all.