By Tessa Dufore, March 21, 2023
Cal Poly Pomona will launch an Equitable Access program in the fall which will cost registered undergraduate students $250 and graduate students $150 for all the books needed for their course load each semester, which is an update to CPP’s existing Instant Access program.
If that seems too costly for some, the opt-out option will be offered at the start of each semester. Students registered for courses with no required materials will be automatically opted out.
On the other hand, CPP is billing it as a fair price to pay for convenience.
Proponents of the program predict that it will streamline the process of purchasing textbooks, offer competitive prices, increase predictability and remove barriers.
University of California, Davis spearheaded the Equitable Access, or EA, program in fall 2020, and San Diego State adopted a similar program in fall 2022.
Director of UC Davis Stores, Aaron Ochoa, explained that EA simplified his school’s scramble to get course materials at the start of the new fall quarter.
Ochoa said there were 65,000 instances where students usually would come back to the bookstore. Adding or dropping classes, added or cancelled sections or when a professor makes changes to required texts cause students to take action or make a decision about their textbooks, which add to the count of instances. EA did not automatically take care of only about 11,000 of those instances, improving efficiency by 82%.
Of those instances, Ochoa said “54,000 didn’t have to do a thing.”
EA automatically adds course-required textbooks and charges them directly to student accounts, which means no more emailing professors, no more multiple visits to the bookstore, no more comparing Amazon prices and no more downloading from illicit sites.
Opting into EA will cover all a student’s required textbooks, no matter the major. And while EA is a digital-first program, printed books that are unavailable in digital or e-book formats will still be available for pick up at the Bronco Bookstore.
Part of what makes EA equitable is that it prevents students from choosing their majors based solely on the cost of books. According to the Director of the Bronco Bookstore, Clint Aase, some majors’ textbooks cost more than others, and that barrier should not prevent students from choosing majors like engineering.
“Tuition doesn’t cost more for engineering, why should books?” Aase said.
Foundation CEO Jared Ceja echoed the sentiment and added his personal experience with the costs of a higher education.
“I believe in it (EA) for a lot of reasons, and it helps students be on an equal playing field,” Ceja said. “Everybody comes into the first day of class prepared. They have their materials. I struggled there economically going through school, and I had to make decisions about ‘When do I buy it?’ And I always felt better when I had my materials when class started as opposed to trying to play catch up later. I genuinely believe this program helps get everybody there.”
CPP arrived at the $250 price by looking into other schools offering similar programs.
UC Davis worked with actuaries from Milliman to find out what price would be best for their campus. Currently, the school is in its third year of successfully using EA and has been charging its undergraduate students $169 per quarter for the last two years.
Despite UC Davis and CPP being on quarter and semester schedules, respectively, the EA cost per year for textbooks between the two universities is very similar.
The price is competitive because CPP can leverage the buying power of its entire student body, which partly explains why the program is opt-out instead of opt-in; having exclusive access to CPP’s nearly 30,000 students incentivizes publishers to keep prices low.
According to Senior Associate Director of the Bronco Bookstore Suzanne Donnelly, EA also preserves the academic freedom of faculty to choose the textbooks required in the classes they instruct. Even if a textbook costs $400, EA-opted-in students will still only pay $250.
“As part of their collective bargaining agreements with the CSU as part of long-standing tradition, they have the freedom to adopt the materials they want to use for their class,” Donnelly said. “We don’t want that to change. We think that’s part of the value of higher education.”
So, what happens if CPP starts making money from this change? Taking notes from UC Davis, Ceja said that the plan is to use revenue from the program to award grants and scholarships.
“If we overestimated and the actual cost of the whole program is, let’s say $244, just hypothetically, we’re not going to pocket the six,” Ceja said. “That six is going to go into a scholarship fund to continue to help students who may not be able to stay in the program.”
The Bronco Bookstore is available to answer all questions related to the coming EA changes as well as guide students toward what option is best for them.
“The idea is to make materials as affordable for all the students as we can to make them easily available for as many students as we can,” Donnelly said. “It’s to do the most amount of good for the most amount of students. It’s not going to be perfect for every student, and we acknowledge that right out the gate. And we will be perfectly happy to help students, who aren’t sure, figure that out.”
Feature image by Tessa Dufore
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