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Three author takeaways from the ‘equitable access’ course distribution model

An emerging new model for distributing course materials called “equitable access” is the topic of a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. With equitable access, all students pay a flat fee per semester or quarter that covers all required textbooks, regardless of the courses they take. The model is similar to the “activity fee” collected by some colleges, which provides students access to all on-campus sporting and concert events. Such fees often are tiered, depending on whether the student is part-time or full-time.

Equitable access is also similar to “inclusive access” in which the fee for course materials is included in the tuition for a specific course. In the inclusive access model, a student might pay $350 for a four-credit economics course including textbook, but would pay $300 for a sociology course that uses a less expensive textbook. In contrast, with equitable access, a student might pay a flat $200 fee to cover the cost of all required textbooks for a term.

According to the author of the Chronicle article, for the 2020-2021 school year, the University of California at Davis will be rolling out an equitable access plan after making bulk purchase deals with publishers. Students will pay $199 for course materials and they will be able to use financial aid money to cover the cost of the fee.

The UC Davis Website, however, does not currently list this fee. It does, however, list $1,017 of miscellaneous fees in addition to the $3,814 quarterly tuition. Those fees include a Facilities and Campus Enhancement Fee, a Campus Expansion Initiative Fee, a Student Facilities Safety Fee, and a Green Initiative Fund Fee.

For authors, there are three take-aways here. First, when schools make deals with publishers, those sales may be considered bulk sales. Royalty contracts typically provide lower royalty rates for those sales than for standalone sales. Author contracts will state the royalty rate for bulk sales, and royalty statements typically have a separate line item reflecting these sales.

The second take-away is that schools sometimes structure fees in order to retain a percentage. In other words, multiply the $199 fee by all the students a UC Davis. Ninety percent of that amount might go to the publishers, but the school might retain the remaining ten percent as an administrative fee. With such a revenue structure, author royalties would be calculated based only on the NET to the publisher. If the course materials are provided in digital format, royalties may be further reduced by a digital royalty allocation retained by the publisher for the use of its online platform and any ancillaries created in-house.

The final take away, is that while students and instructors continue to complain about the high cost of textbooks, there is very little pushback against the mounting fees that students pay—fees that can far outstrip the cost of textbooks. It might be time to establish priorities: Shouldn’t course materials be more important for students than a fee to attend sporting events or to enhance campus facilities?

June ParsonsJune Parsons is an educator, digital book pioneer, co-author of TAA Textbook Excellence and McGuffey Longevity Award-winning textbooks, a TAA Fellow, and chair of the Publishing Practices Committee. She co-developed the first commercially successful multimedia, interactive digital textbook; one that set the bar for platforms now being developed by educational publishers. Her career includes extensive classroom teaching, product design for eCourseware, textbook authoring for Course Technology and Cengage, Creative Strategist for MediaTechnics Corporation, and Director of Content for Veative Virtual Reality Labs. She holds a doctorate in instructional technology, CCP (Certified Computing Professional) certification, and is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery.