Breaking Down the Effect of Affordable Course Materials on Student Success
Sponsored When students must choose between textbooks and food or gas money, the latter wins. But without course materials, students often find classroom success elusive.
A student entering his or her first year of college can expect course materials to cost between 5 to 10 percent of total expenses. At the same time, student populations are changing from the traditional 18 to 22-year-old to campuses that are more diverse, including older adults and returning veterans, all with unique financial challenges. But one financial concern remains consistent: course materials are expensive are often the first college expense cut when money gets tight.
The steep rise of textbooks
In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a Consumer Price Index for college expenses. Between 2006 and 2016, tuition costs jumped 63 percent. Over that same period, textbook prices increased 88 percent. Covering that same time period, a study conducted by the Florida Virtual Campus revealed more than half of students spent more than $300 on books in a semester, while nearly a fifth shelled out more than $500.
More importantly, the Florida study showed how the high cost of materials directly impacts the student’s ability to succeed. When books are too expensive, two-thirds don’t purchase them, and of those students, 37 percent earn a poor grade, while almost one-fifth end up failing. To compensate for high book costs, students are taking fewer classes or don’t register for a class they need — but that ends up extending their time in school, which costs more money. It’s an ugly, expensive cycle.
How campuses stepped up
Digital learning platforms, like Pearson’s Revel, combine content with immersive and engaged academic experiences.
Students began to complain openly about the price of textbooks. Faculty became concerned that students stopped purchasing the expensive materials. Educators at Indiana University paid attention.
“We started pilots in 2009, working with some publishers, to make some electronic textbook content available, and we didn’t ask the students to pay,” said Stacey Morrone, associate vice president for learning technologies in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology at Indiana University. The students liked the change.
Indiana University now works with 30 publishers who agree that the cost of e-texts will be at least 35 percent of a hard-copy edition. They have publishers who now offer their entire digital catalog at a flat rate. And importantly, the students will be able to access the e-text throughout their college career. While digital formats are optional, more faculty are buying in because, Morrone said, it ensures every student has their materials on the first day of classes. Indiana’s data shows that students who achieve A/B grades start coursework immediately and keep reading.
The faculty benefit
San Diego State University began its Immediate Access program in 2016 with two classes. That’s since grown to 80 classes with savings of $2 million in textbook costs, with a projection of 150 classes next year and $4 million in savings.
James Frazee, senior academic technology officer and director of instructional services, said students at SDSU are charged for digital books and materials as a course fee, and they aren’t charged the fee until after the add/drop deadline. The majority of students said they access the materials before that deadline and felt this access helped them academically.
“Students feel this is a good value,” Frazee said. Not only are the materials more affordable, but they deepen the level of engagement with faculty. Faculty can monitor the way the materials are used and can focus lessons around sections where it is clear students are struggling. Also, as students have access to materials immediately, faculty can conduct more frequent, low-stake assessments earlier in the semester. Having improved insight to how students are faring from day one, faculty can restructure the lesson plan that lead to improved student success.
Digital materials go beyond affordability, said Drew Miller, senior vice president of marketing with Pearson. Digital learning platforms, like Pearson’s Revel, combine content with immersive and engaged academic experiences. It allows both students and faculty to be interactive in the education process, creating a sustainable business model for both higher education institutions and the students they serve. Students are able to access and afford the materials they need to succeed while the institutions provide a learning environment that allows options that work best for all.