Inclusive and Equitable Access Models for Course Materials: Comparisons with OER and AER

This article is the second part to our post about Open Educational Resources and Affordable Educational Resources.

It is important to acknowledge a few other contenders in the push to lower textbook costs for students: Equitable Access and Inclusive Access. Equitable access replaces the costs of textbooks with a fee added to students’ tuition at the beginning of a term that covers the cost of all course materials for that semester, no matter the discipline. Students have the option to opt out and can apply their financial aid. The cost is the same for every student, which creates some concerns when you consider the cost difference between a low-material-cost humanities course and a science course with books that may cost hundreds of dollars. There is an expected course savings with this, as deals have been negotiated between the publishers, the bookstore, and the university. This is a textbook system that is becoming more popular with universities.

Inclusive Access is more common, as it focuses on just one or a few courses instead of all the courses a student is taking. Like Equitable Access, it is a service provided by publishers and college bookstores, marketed as a tool to lower costs for students. Inclusive Access involves a plan to provide eBooks to students for an entire course section, course, or department, depending on the agreements entered into by the publisher and a bookstore. The selected text is provided to all students by the first day of class and is typically paid for as a registration fee instead of a separate textbook cost. This can provide significant savings to students who would be likely to buy a new copy of the textbook, but savings are debatable for those who would acquire their texts by other means. Students can normally opt out, but penalties could arise for departments that sign on and don’t end up with enough student participation.

Please note that there are certain concerns with both the EA and IA models. The cost savings suggested for both models are often based on the difference between students participating in the program or students buying full-price textbooks, which is the only option available to students. There have also been concerns about the issue of these programs being opt-out instead of opt-in for students. The Department of Education is presently reviewing whether financial aid will cover these programs if they are opt-out only.

Similarities and differences between OER, AER, IA, and EA

Conditions OER AER IA EA
Free to students yes possibly no no
Free to university yes possibly yes** yes
Low cost yes yes possibly possibly
Copyright applies no possibly yes yes
Reduces equity gaps yes yes possibly possibly
Open to share with others yes no no no
Able to be remixed yes no no no
Available on the first day of class yes yes yes no
Potential for hidden fees no no yes yes
Students can get a hard copy of the book possibly possibly possibly possibly
Students can get a digital copy of the book yes yes yes yes
Students get their books at the bookstore possibly possibly yes yes
Ability to make modifications to the materials yes no no no
Might include scholarly articles found in the library databases no yes no no
Who benefits from the use students students publishers publishers

** Free as long as certain conditions are met.

The table above presents in tabular format the distinctions between OER, AER, EA, and IA throughout this toolbox article. It highlights how materials can be shared, how costs are passed on, and who benefits from the specific textbook arrangement.


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