Part 2 of 2: The Solution
Previously we discussed why course materials pricing had increases well beyond inflation, and why the dynamics of this market has hurt student success. If you want to read the full entry, access Part 1 of 2 here: What would happen if learning materials were provided to all students on or before the first day of class? Part I
We promised a solution, and it’s absurdly simple. Break the cycle and lower the total cost of education by eliminating the print textbook. Do this and students will benefit both economically and educationally.
With a digital learning solution, there is no used or rental market, so the publisher gets paid for every student and can significantly lower the price of the content. You might say, digital textbooks are available today and students can simply choose them and that is true. However, the retail price of digital textbooks is simply not as competitive with rental and used. Again, this is due to the market…If institutions ensured every student had access to the content, the publishers would make the sale on every student, and they can significantly lower the cost of the content. Education publishers can then go back to what they were originally founded to do: compete to create the most effective learning solutions.
By far the most important reason to provide students with the required materials they need is to level the playing field for success in college. According to the last data from the National Center for Education Data, the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students at a four-year degree-granting institutions is 60 percent. Only thirty-nine percent of those enrolled in two-year programs complete within three years. These statistics are worse for students who are the first in their family to go to college or have financial challenges. The high cost of course materials is particularly egregious for lower income and disadvantaged students. Fifty-two percent of those whose families earn less than $50,000 feel that avoiding or delaying purchasing the materials negatively impacted their grades, compared to just 39 percent of those whose families make more.
Beyond lowered costs and assuring the students get their materials, there are many other educational benefits to providing digital learning materials on or before the first day or class. Once all students and faculty are in a digital learning environment, the content can evolve from static pages to interactive learning solutions providing formative and summative feedback opportunities as well as insight into student learning behaviors. There are fantastic digital learning solutions available and in use today that I will discuss in a future blog post.
What would it take to implement a program that significantly lowers the cost of learning materials and ensures all students get them at the beginning of the course? Nothing more than an institution to simply say yes to a course fee model. The federal government has responded to the rise of these programs by publishing new rules that allow any institution to include learning materials in a course provided students are given the option to opt-out on a per course basis.
These programs have been implemented in pockets around the country and VitalSource is powering them at more than 400 institutions saving students more than $100 million dollars in the past 12 months. To break that down a little bit, students are saving an average of $60 per title and we delivered more than 1,700,000 titles through inclusive access programs at traditional 2/4 year programs. Our technology powered these savings through our VitalSource Access program, but also through programs run by some of our partners, Barnes & Noble Education, Follett, Pearson, Verba and more than 20 other partners serving higher education institutions.
Beyond the cost savings, all of these students received the content on the first day, and their faculty and institutions now had brand new insights through our analytics product as to exactly what each student was doing with the content. Print can’t do that, and students choosing digital won’t either.
Everything is in place to improve learning and cut student costs. If just half of all colleges and universities implemented these programs across campus, no less than $1 billion dollars could be cut from student costs. What are we waiting for?