What is “Inclusive Access” to Course Material for College Students?

In the last several years, “Inclusive Access” has become a popular buzzword in the world of college textbook publishing. But what does it mean? What is it, and why is it favored by large publishers and university bookstores – while being opposed by students and independent bookstore operators? Let’s take a look at this subject in detail now, and explore everything you need to know.

What is Inclusive Access? Understanding the Basics

Traditionally, students are responsible for acquiring their own course materials and textbooks – by purchasing them online, from the university bookstore, or other independent college bookstores.

This is not the case with an inclusive access model. Instead, schools and universities sign up, and an entire student class will automatically get digital course materials – instead of requiring them to be purchased individually.

The “inclusive” element of Inclusive Access refers to the fact that every student will have access to the same materials on the first day of class and is “included” – nobody will be delayed because they didn’t get their books on time, or due to the high cost of books.

Instead, they get their course materials automatically – and the cost of the materials is included in their tuition.

Why are Publishers and University Bookstore Operators in Favor of Inclusive Access?

Large publishing companies like Cengage, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson – as well as large university bookstore operators like Barnes & Noble and Follett – are all touting the benefits of inclusive access. According to them, the benefits of this approach include:

  • Lower costs – Depending on the courses, students can save money compared to the price of new printed, physical textbooks.
  • No delays, leading to higher grades – Students won’t fall behind in the first week or two of classes due to late arrival or purchase of textbooks, which can lead to better learning outcomes.

Why Are Students and Independent College Bookstores Against Inclusive Access?

Inclusive access sounds pretty good if you ask publishers – but many students, student organizations and independent college bookstore operators are against it. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Content expires – Inclusive access content typically expires after a course ends, meaning it cannot be used for future reference without paying additional fees.
  • Cannot be resold – You cannot legally buy and resell digital content, unlike textbooks, which means that there is no way to recoup a portion of the money spent on course materials.
  • Can’t buy used – Used textbooks are a great value compared to new books. Despite inclusive access offering discounts, used textbooks can often be cheaper – and resold after being used, leading to lower overall costs. Buying used books is not possible with the inclusive access model.

Inclusive Access Could Become More Common in the Future

Since 2017, the inclusive access model has been growing in popularity, and as publishers like Cengage, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and others continue to push digital-first strategies, it seems likely that this trend will continue to grow in the future – despite protests from students and organizations dedicated to keeping higher education affordable.

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