Tessa Dufore | The Poly Post

CPP engineering students weigh in on Equitable Access

By Tessa Dufore, April 11, 2023

Since its conception about three years ago, “Equitable Access” programs have been gaining traction in American universities and showing great promise for those which adopt it.

According to a 2021 proposal submitted by University of California, Davis Stores Executive Director, Jason Lorgan, 78% of students reported they did not have access to all their required textbooks before implementing Equitable Access, or EA. After UC Davis launched the program, only 27% did not have access to all required textbooks.

The proposal frames the problem of textbook access as contributing to inequity “because not all students can afford their required course materials,” and the ever-increasing cost of textbooks is a huge problem at the university level, resulting in students needing to become more and more thrifty to keep up.

If the goal is to reduce inequity, EA has been greatly successful; however, the program’s proponents cannot prove increasing student access to required textbooks translates to an increase in student success. 

A 2023 study by Michael Moore demonstrated there is a statistically significant change in students’ course completion rates in the time after EA was implemented at University of Southern Mississippi, a four-year school, but the change is underwhelming. 

Moore found that 0.98% of USM students overall experienced an increase in course completion when compared to students from before EA was implemented in their school. Moore found that certain minority populations, such as Native American students (+16.51%) and Black students (+1.75%), did experience greater completion rates after EA was implemented.

Conversely, Hispanic students experienced a 1.66% decrease in course completion over the same time period.

Tessa Dufore | The Poly Post

Moore wrote on his website, “While you may not jump at the percentage change, there is real impact on changing the academic outcomes and fortunes for students.”

UC Davis students seem sold on Equitable Access. According a survey, a majority of students reported they would recommend other students stay opted in EA and that EA is easier than independently shopping for textbooks.

On the other hand, while 73% of students reported convenience was their primary reason for staying opted in, it is important to note that only 18% said it was primarily because the program saved them money.

A Cal Poly Pomona aerospace engineering student taking her third year of a five-year track, Josselyn Saucedo, estimated she spends over $100 per semester on textbooks.

“I remember in high school, people say, ‘Yeah, you have to buy textbooks (in college),’” Saucedo said. “So, I just assumed people spend over like $300 sometimes, like $100 each class on textbooks. So I was prepared for that. I’m going to be spending a lot of money on coursework, and they were right; I do spend quite a bit.”

She continued, noting not every student buys all required textbooks.

“If I opted in for every single textbook — whether or not some professors say ‘required,’ but it’s not necessarily required — I think it would be a lot higher,” Saucedo said.

There is a price for convenience, and CPP students are looking to pay $250 per semester for it. 

Director of UC Davis Stores Aaron Ochoa said students at UC Davis pay about as much as CPP students will per year, about $500, and the price of EA makes sense for the program to sustain itself and support the students who need it most — even the students who cannot afford the $250 per semester.

“If we think about the student body and our lowest income students, even if we were to get that price to $99, they still couldn’t afford it,” Ochoa said. “So, instead what we’ve decided to do is utilize those funds to help fund equal access scholarships for low-income students.”

CPP also plans to utilize revenue from the program to fund scholarships for the following year’s students, effectively socializing the cost of textbooks. 

The program also claims that it reduces students’ barriers to entry, since many students have cited textbook cost as the deciding factor toward what they choose to study — if students cannot afford the course materials for an engineering degree, for example, they are likely to choose a major with less expenses. 

As Moore wrote in his study, “Course materials intervention research isn’t rocket science, but course materials intervention adoption could help someone become a rocket scientist.”

Another benefit is EA’s digital-first mission will decrease CPP’s carbon footprint. The environmental cost of printing and shipping textbooks disappears when switching to ebooks, but not every student prefers digital.

Aerospace engineering third-year student Randy Vazquez, also on a five-year track, said he learns better with a physical textbook.

“That program (EA) sounds really cool, but I don’t know if I’m going to buy the physical version or go with that,” Vazquez said. “My favorite subject that I took was orbital mechanics. I got the Instant Access — I got the digital book — but I wish I had the physical copy because I just want to flip through the pages. I don’t want to have to go on my laptop or my phone to read it.”

Regardless of the benefits both perceived and real, this is the first time universities are addressing the rising costs of textbooks, and a big change like EA is needed to fix the current problems. As it stands, Instant Access is not doing nearly enough.

“Nobody likes the textbook industry the way it is. They never have. No, I mean really, realistically, no one has ever liked textbooks — let’s be honest here,” Ochoa said. “The only external cost you had other than maybe housing and dining was books, and that fluctuated depending on major. … All that’s happening is we’re just transitioning course materials to fit the way the campus does everything else.” 

Feature image by Tessa Dufore

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