Welcome to Textbook Wisdom, a new Foreword Online series that speaks directly to faculty about issues in the course material industry that affect the classroom. This is our second article. It explains the how inclusive access ensures students have their books Day One. Share it with faculty — and on social media. Bridge the gap between bookstores and educators.
When I worked in higher education, I knew nothing about inclusive access — programs that include the cost of books in tuition or fees. If I had, I might have saved myself a lot of guilt and stress. Often, the early part of the semester was spent juggling deadlines and assignments, while students waited for books to arrive from off-campus vendors. Though I wanted to hold them accountable for having the right materials, I didn’t want to punish them for lag-time in book delivery. What’s more, if the number of students lacking materials reached critical mass, there was little I could do to generate reading-based discussion until the mail arrived.
Inclusive access not only ensures students have books in-hand before class begins, it reduces the total cost of course materials. Students increasingly view textbook purchases as optional — something else I didn’t realize while teaching. There are a variety of reasons for that, but the largest is that course materials are often cost-prohibitive. A program that guarantees students are prepared while also lowering prices reduces the pressure on teachers and students.
Inclusive access also conveys to students what you may have tried to do via your syllabus for years: Required textbooks are a critical part of education. They’re not optional.
How Inclusive Access Works
Inclusive access programs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are digital-only, which means the eBooks you select are automatically loaded into student’s account before the semester starts. The school pays for the materials up front, then recoups the cost as tuition and fee payments arrive. Usually, the book will appear in the student’s LMS account, tied to your course. Other programs offer inclusive access for digital and print texts. This increases the selection of titles. With print books, the school also pays up front, so students are shipped their course materials well before the semester begins. Again, the institution recoups the cost from tuition and fees.
Because inclusive access guarantees increased sales for publishers, they’re willing to negotiate lower prices for the bulk purchase. Thus, the total cost to the student goes down.
What About Academic Freedom?
Sometimes teachers hear about administrative efforts to shift to inclusive access, and fret that the change will adversely affect their curriculum. With inclusive access, the textbook choice remains yours. Some schools have department-wide initiatives, but these don’t usually happen without instructor buy-in. If you work for a school where you’re accustomed to making your own textbook choices, nothing about inclusive access will change that.
How You Can Set It Up
You can bring the matter up with your chair and explore options that might serve the whole department. Or, you can raise the issue with the administration. Chief Financial Officers search for ways to lower student costs, because rising education prices affect retention, a constant concern for those aiming to balance a school’s budget. Another option is to work directly with your school’s official bookstore. The textbook manager — the person in charge of placing orders from profs — will know which publishers or wholesalers are offering inclusive access. You will serve your students best if you work with textbook managers, who have experience negotiating with publishers — and important administrative connections. Ultimately, you need the school to pay for the books up front. Pairing up with an expert will help ensure your initiative goes down seamlessly.
Check out our first Textbook Wisdom article about how faculty can do their part in explaining the importance of the course materials to students.