It’s no secret that attending college in the United States is relatively expensive, with everything from tuition to parking fees adding to the overall cost.
That's not to mention the cost of textbooks for each class. But Auburn University says it has saved students nearly $1 million since 2014, crediting a focus on going digital textbooks.
“We’ve actually saved students $941,000, just in three years,” said Russell Weldon, assistant director in charge of course materials at the university’s bookstore. “On average so far, we’ve saved students 45 percent overall, for everything they’re buying through the All Access program. So we’re literally cutting the cost of materials in half.”
Three years ago, Auburn began implementing All Access as a trial in its freshman orientation course. All Access is a program that works with textbook companies to make course materials available digitally to students at roughly half the cost of a hard copy of a textbook. The program also helps the university save money, as it is a big cost to the school when the textbooks stocked at the campus bookstore don't sell, Weldon said.
“At the bookstore, we’ve primarily been engaged in trying to find cheaper alternatives for students because of the cost of course materials,” he added. “We’re on the front lines. We see students coming to us in tears because they can’t afford the book, or trying to make the decision of, ‘Do I really need this book to get a good grade in the class?’”
All Access allows students to access the complete textbook, along with any supplemental materials, digitally on the first day of class through the online portal, Canvas. For each class they take that offers All Access, they have the digital textbook free for two weeks before having to decide whether they would like to buy the digital edition or opt out and purchase a hard copy.
“We’re to the point now where we could put any course with any kind of content through this model, which is the exciting part,” Weldon said. “The adoption rate is really left up to the faculty member. We have to connect with a faculty member who’s interested in it and is willing to pull it in.”
Wednesday, the university hosted an information workshop about All Access, where faculty members met with representatives from textbook companies to learn more about how they can utilize the program.
One teacher who attended Wednesday’s workshop was Angela Love, an early childhood education teacher in her tenth year at Auburn.
“I’m new to it,” Love said of the All Access program. “But I was looking for cost savings, and I feel like this makes it so easy. I’m as interested in making textbooks accessible to our students as much as possible.”
Gewyl Galberth, a sales representative with Sage Publishing, was at Auburn on Wednesday, introducing professors to the All Access program.
“It’s a seamless, smooth, easy process for them to enlist in,” she said. “Inclusive access was around, I think, a long time ago, and people just kind of did away with it. Now it’s trending back, because technology has just been booming. So it’s a huge initiative and a big focus for us right now.”
The digital convenience
In the Student Center, down the hall from where vendors and faculty members were discussing digital textbooks, Kamran Kangal sat and studied.
Kangal uses All Access for her art history class, but the big draw for the freshman is not necessarily the price point.
“I know that my dad, the one who gets to pay for all the stuff I need, would very much not appreciate me saying that I don’t prioritize the cost savings,” she said. “But I really like that it’s digital. It means I can access it on my iPad and my computer and my phone, if I need to.”
Kangal can log into her Canvas online portal and select the “Art History” tab to access her digital textbook from any device, as long as she is connected to the internet.
“It will even save the last page I was reading,” she said. “So if I was reading it on my laptop, and I left off on page 427, I can pick it up on my iPad and it will ask if I want to pick up where I left off. And there’s page 427.”
She said she purchases electronic textbooks whenever she can, to avoid the added weight of carrying multiple books in her backpack. If any of her future classes at Auburn offer the All Access course materials, she said she would be interested in using it again.
“It’s super nice not to have to lug around a 20-pound textbook,” Kangal said. “I also just really liked the idea, because I can get my textbook and course materials whenever, wherever, as long as I have internet. And that’s super convenient.”
Sophomore Andrew Collins said convenience was a major factor in his decision to use the All Access option for his wellness kinesiology class.
"You can search for keywords, which is a little easier than searching though the book," he said, browsing through the book on his laptop. "Say I want to look for a certain muscle. I just type it in, and it pops up."
During the Spring 2017 semester, about 6,000 students were enrolled in at least one All Access course at Auburn. In the current Fall 2017 semester, more than 16,000 Auburn students are enrolled in All Access courses, Weldon said.
“We feel really encouraged,” he said. “The student feedback has been really positive, and the faculty feedback. We’re even beginning to see a better grade outcome in the end, because everybody’s got the material, which is what the faculty wants. They want students to save money, but they really want students to do well and to have that material. This really helps get that into the hands of every student.”
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