The Impact of Day-One Access on College Students

February 2023. Studies show that access to course materials on the first day of class positively affects student performance. Here's how to make this a reality on your campus.

When it comes to boosting academic performance institution-wide, higher learning leaders have a variety of tools at their disposal. But one strategy stands out as being particularly straightforward and effective: promoting day-one access to textbooks, courseware, and other course materials.

That was the conclusion made by a group of academic researchers from the University of Georgia, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and Ewha Womans University in a large-scale study of student learning outcomes. According to the 2018 study, “by simply ensuring that all students, regardless of need or background, have access to course materials on the first day of class, the quality and extent of learning appear to be improved.” 

For this reason, a school’s day-one access rate is a key measure of both academic success and learning equity. And with the right approach, it’s possible to achieve a high level of timely access to course materials at the institutional level. 

In January 2023, for example, 100% of course content requested through BibliU’s Universal Learning platform was available to students on day one of the semester. This implementation season included over 2,000 titles between nine different schools. 

The impact is significant: All the students covered by this roll-out are now on equal footing when it comes to accessing course materials in a timely way. 

Why Is First-Day Access a Challenge? 

Widespread first-day access, however, is not a reality on many campuses. 

For far too many students, the true scope of textbook costs don’t surface until the start of a semester. The average college textbook costs $135.50, and study after study shows that many students delay purchasing a textbook due to cost. A California State University (CSU) Channel Islands study found that 80% of students do not have access to a textbook on the first day of class. 

While the high cost of textbooks affects all students, it impacts students from historically underserved populations the most. According to the CSU Channel Islands study, textbook prices are an even greater barrier for students who come from underrepresented groups.

Ultimately, day one access is a matter of equity, and it’s clear that traditional textbook provisioning models just aren't working. When all students can access the required textbooks, journal articles, and other critical materials right from the start, the opportunity to stay on track academically is more evenly distributed. 

That’s why an increasing number of colleges are taking action. For example, when South Piedmont Community College (SPCC) moved away from the traditional bookstore model and rolled out a digital-first approach to textbooks and other course materials, the school successfully stayed within a preset cost ceiling for students. It’s this kind of innovative approach that will help students who would otherwise struggle.

3 Ways To Help Students Access Course Content

Some institutions, like SPCC, are more advanced in terms of boosting course content access and have launched sophisticated initiatives to help level the playing field for all students. Others are just beginning their journey. 

It’s never too late to get started. Here are three tips that higher learning leaders can use to make course content more accessible:

1. Build the case for OER 

As free learning materials, OERs (Open Educational Resources) help students overcome cost barriers associated with course content access. 

It comes as no surprise, then, that OERs have been proven to boost academic performance. In fact, a study of 21,822 students found that OERs helped all students academically, and helped historically underserved college students the most. According to the study:

  • For all students enrolled in the OER-enabled courses, the percentage of students who received a D, received an F, or withdrew (the DFW rate) decreased by 2.68%;
  • For historically underserved student populations in particular, the adoption of OER resources decreased DFW grades by 5.13%.

While students and faculty at many colleges are embracing OERs, buy-in at the institutional level remains a challenge. To get the ball rolling, consider making a case for OERs by focusing on how they improve student success rates and promote a culture of inclusion.

2. Prioritize digital

Some institutions use an e-commerce model to sell both hardcopy and digital textbooks. But digital beats paper hands down. Here are some benefits to shifting away from paper-based textbooks and going digital-first:

  • Over the past decade, a larger share of students have developed a preference for digital course materials.
  • By going digital-first, the institution can avoid costly overhead associated with maintaining a hardcopy inventory. These cost savings can then be passed on to students via an institution-backed digital platform.
  • An increasing number of students are taking courses online, and digital content provides more affordances regardless of time, place, or learning needs. 

When mapping out a digital-first strategy, keep the following things in mind:

  • Look for an API-agnostic platform that integrates fully with the school’s existing LMS. This eliminates the need for multiple content systems and applications.
  • Partner with a provider who can enable access to e-textbooks on any device with a robust set of study tools.
  • The right provider will have relationships with all the relevant publishers. The school should only have to give the provider book lists without worrying about coverage gaps. 

All of the above elements help students hit the ground running on day one. 

With many campuses doing away with brick-and-mortar bookstores, digital solutions are becoming not solely cutting-edge technology but the only way forward.

3. Experiment with equitable access

Once a decision has been made to go digital, another question remains: How will students procure the content? This is where equitable access enters the picture.

Equitable access enables students to get all the required materials with minimal hassle. Instead of purchasing each textbook and other course materials separately, students acquire all the content via the LMS on the first day of class. The digital texts are less costly than traditional textbooks, and the cost of the course materials are bundled with tuition or course fees. One-stop access means students don’t have to struggle with multiple codes or accounts. BibliU does this through their Universal Learning solution.

Adoption of this delivery model has dramatically increased since 2016, with more and more universities and colleges across the US turning to equitable access models each year. The embrace of this model can make institutions more competitive, as students push for equity on their campuses. 

BibliU’s robust platform delivers content via equitable access and can aggregate digital content from thousands of publishers and OER sources. It can take as little as six weeks to implement and guarantees a more streamlined expansion the following semester. 

Support Learning Equity With First-Day Access

Forward-thinking higher learning leaders understand the importance of using proven, innovative approaches to give students the resources they need to succeed academically, and it starts on day one of class. 

By advocating for OERs, digital content, and equitable access, higher learning leaders can help all students access critical course content right away. At the end of the day, this helps close the attainment gap that historically underserved student populations have faced for far too long. 

As seen through the success of their recent implementation season, BibliU can help you get to day-one access for all. Want to learn more about Universal Learning? Get all the information you need here.

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