Outcomes Made Accessible: Improving Outcomes and Retention While Lowering the Cost of College Learning Materials

Outcomes Made Accessible:  Improving Outcomes and Retention While Lowering the Cost of College Learning Materials

Most students pursue college as an investment in their future. Hard work and dedication now should pay off later with more career choices, better problem-solving skills and an expanded knowledge of the world.

The High Price of Higher Ed

Managing the cost of higher education can be daunting. Tuition has increased a staggering 163 percent on average in the past 30 years.1  Add to that the rising cost of learning materials. In the past decade, the average cost of textbooks has gone up four times faster than the rate of inflation.2  According to the College Board, average college students spend more than $1,200 on textbooks and supplies during a school year.3  It’s no wonder that more and more students are critical of increasing course material costs while academic outcomes remain unchanged.

For students already struggling to pay tuition, the high cost of course materials can affect their academic progress, impacting what classes and how many they take
per semester, withdrawal numbers and graduation rates. Fortunately, there are a number of options available now that institutions, professors and students can take advantage of that make learning materials more affordable.


Affordability Affects Achievement

The need to reduce prices is driven by a greater understanding that the cost of learning materials can be challenging for students to manage. According to a recent Follett ACCESS student survey, 42 percent of students indicated that they frequently opt not to purchase some of their required course materials because of costs.4  Two out of five students who did not obtain at least one course material reported receiving a lower-than-expected grade in the course.5

Accessing and utilizing required course materials are key contributors to student success. Eighty-nine percent of faculty report that the use of required course materials is very important for doing well in their courses, according to a Follett ACCESS faculty survey conducted by the Follett Higher Education Group, which manages course material delivery for more than 1,200 campuses throughout North America.

Institutions and professors are sympathetic to the impact that the cost of learning materials has on their students. More than 90 percent of faculty members say that textbooks are priced too high in a recent survey by Inside Higher Ed.7  Students are savvy consumers, often delaying the purchase of learning materials for classes requiring digital components until the quarter or semester has begun to make sure that instructors will use the courseware. They also compare the costs of new, used, rental and digital options before making acquisition decisions.8

More Affordable Options

There are four options that campus stores can leverage now to make textbooks and learning materials more affordable:

1. Digital Learning Materials
2. Open Education Resources (OER)
3. Rental Programs
4. Used Textbooks

Digital Learning Materials

The use of digital versions of textbooks and other course materials — often called eBooks — that students access on laptops or mobile devices is growing in popularity. A study by The NPD Group finds that 71 percent of students used digital materials in college courses, up 45 percent from 2016.9

Key Fact: About 70 percent of course materials are available in digital format, and that number is expected to increase as student acceptance of the format grows.10

There are two categories of digital formats:

1. eBooks – typically delivered through a digital eReader with content provided in one of two formats. Both types provide little or no interactivity with the material. This content type represents two percent of all national digital content provisioning programs.11

  • Portable Document Format (PDF) is the most basic format of digital books, which is created by producing a PDF version of a textbook’s layout. The most popular PDF software is Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • Electronic Publication (ePub) is the most widely used eBook format and is the standard open format for the publishing industry.

2. Courseware – software designed to be used in an educational course. Courseware can often be personalized to address students’ specific learning needs, with the content adapted based on the learners’ activities. This content type represents 98 percent of all national digital content provisioning programs.12

Digital learning materials can be made available for rent with a time-based subscription or purchased for use on student devices. Or schools can make digital books available via a learning management system (LMS), which often also includes tools for instructors to add additional course materials, track student progress and engage with students.

The price of digital learning materials is usually significantly less than their printed counterparts because there are no costs associated with printing or shipping. Purchasers simply buy access to the materials online. Students gain immediate access to digital learning materials because they are never out of stock.

Prices for digital learning materials can be up to 90 percent less than the cost of print versions.  Based on internal data from April 2017 to March 2018, in fiscal year 2018, Follett saved students more than $50 million compared to the cost of print textbooks by offering digital options for textbooks.13

Open Education Resources (OER)

OER learning materials are openly licensed digital educational materials that can be used instead of traditional textbooks and other courseware. The concept has been available for a while but is emerging now as a viable option to reduce the cost of learning materials while still providing rich, up-to-date content.

The NPD Group finds that one in nine students currently uses OER materials, and of that group, more than half use it to supplement print or digital textbooks.14 The Inside Higher Ed survey finds that instructors who consider price when selecting course materials may achieve the goal of reducing costs by assigning more OER.15 Professors can design courses on their own by building on available content from OER aggregators that host large collections of open resources. The process requires careful vetting of materials to make sure that they are high quality, peer reviewed and formatted properly.

Another option is to adopt OER content curated by a third party. For example, Lumen Learning reviews content from a variety of sources, selects the best available OER and adds timely updates, learning design and technical support to produce effective courseware for introductory courses, general education and developmental education available through an LMS. Working with Follett, students are charged only $10 to $25, which represents a significant savings compared to the cost of traditional learning materials.  OER have already proven to increase student success measured by course completions and grades earned of a C or better.16 

Key Fact: Students using OER enjoy an average of 83% savings with the same or better learning outcomes.

Rental Programs

Textbook rental programs can help to reduce the cost of materials for students who only want course materials while classes are in session. By renting new or used textbooks, students can save up to 80 percent off the cost of purchasing new textbooks. Follett actively pursues options to expand rental programs, including a recent direct partnership initiative with publishers to extend the benefits of their rental programs through campus bookstores.

When students purchase textbooks, there’s no guarantee that they will command strong buyback prices for titles not readopted for the next semester. Book rental is a low-risk option because students know that the rental fee is the set cost. Rental programs are also a good choice for titles that do not require access codes for supplemental materials. Rental programs can also increase the supply of used books per campus, lowering the costs of materials for students in future semesters.

Used Textbooks

An NPD Group study finds that the vast majority – 88 percent – of students still purchase print textbooks.17 Students often look for used copies of required materials in an effort to save money. Campus stores have responded by making sure that a portion of their textbook inventory includes used materials in good condition to ensure affordable course material options. 

Not only are used textbooks less expensive than new, but students can also sell books back to the campus store during buyback to recoup some of the initial costs. For institutions, used textbooks are a good option for popular titles in general education and core courses that have larger enrollments.

Key Fact: When faculty make timely adoption choices about learning materials, the probability of sourcing more used and rental texts in secondary marketplaces increases, ultimately lowering the cost of materials.

The Industry Responds to Students’ Needs

When students enroll in college, they have their sights set bettering their lives through education. The educational community is responding to the call to make learning materials more affordable by taking advantage of technology and alternate content provisioning program models to provide options that meet both the needs of institutions and students. Nearly seventy-seven percent of students agree that they are more prepared for a course when they have course materials on the first day of class.18

By considering ways to incorporate digital learning materials, OER, rental programs and used textbooks into sourcing options, institutions can enable students to get the best prices while quickly and efficiently acquiring needed learning materials.

Automating Affordability

A new inclusive access model is emerging that enables institutions to simplify the process of acquiring required learning materials. Professors are still able to choose the course materials, be it digital, print or a mix that works best for their courses. Students can opt-in to gain access to the materials through the school, which can either be included in the cost of tuition or course charges.

Students know upfront what their course materials will cost and are prepared on the first day of classes with everything they need to succeed, generally at a much lower cost than procuring everything on their own.

Follett ACCESS: Course Materials for All

For students and their families, the cost and process of obtaining the materials they need for college classes can be overwhelming, and having those materials on day one has a direct impact on academic success. Follett has the answer: Follett ACCESS, a powerful program that enables colleges and universities to deliver all course changes (textbooks, lab kits, supplies, etc.) as part of tuition and course charges.

With Follett ACCESS, all students have what they need on the first day of class, stress-free and effortlessly — which levels the playing field for all students, regardless of economic background or social status. With Follett ACCESS, students benefit from Follett's buying power to save up to 30 percent or more on the cost of textbooks and course materials.

“I have had the opportunity to take advantage of the Follett ACCESS program midway in my BA program, and it has been great. I don’t have to worry about waiting for class to start to find out the books required. I don’t have to search online for the book or worry about shipping time and extra costs. It’s a great benefit to the students, and I am grateful I’ve had the chance to use it.”19

Follett ACCESS is the perfect union of publishers, institutions, faculty and Follett — coming together to enhance access to course materials, engagement and learning outcomes, help make course materials more affordable and ultimately foster student outcomes. Institutions can promote the benefits of Follett ACCESS to students who often evaluate multiple schools before deciding where to enroll. Lower course material costs included in tuition is a compelling differentiator. It’s also a way to provide student
achievement support that can be evaluated on a regular basis to measure effectiveness.

Follett ACCESS offers faculty the academic freedom of choice to select the materials that work best for their learning objectives versus staying with older editions or not adopting a title because of concerns about added costs for students. All students are automatically provided with the right edition of a title. Follett has delivered an estimated 70 percent in average savings to students on the 200 campuses where the Follett ACCESS program is currently implemented.

How Follett ACCESS Works for Higher Education Students

The faculty defines what course materials are adopted for courses that are part of the Follett ACCESS program. Then Follett sources everything and provides the institution with material costs that they can share with students. When students enroll in classes that are part of the Follett ACCESS program, they receive all Follett ACCESS course materials on or before the first day of classes. Students also benefit by getting better market pricing than they most likely could find if they bought everything separately.

The program is flexible because the format of materials can be either one standard type of course material or a mix of new or used print, rental, digital learning materials and OER. Since it is essentially the institutions’ programs under Follett ACCESS, they can choose to brand the white label program with their own school-specific name or use the Follett ACCESS designation. For example, the University of Florida calls their program UF All Access.

According to Dr. Brian Harfe, Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Assistant Provost, Teaching and Technology and Professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida, “[t]extbook costs continue to be a source of financial hardship for many of our students. The ability of the UF All Access program to drastically decrease the cost of textbooks for UF students has reduced a financial hurdle for obtaining a UF degree.”

5 Ways to Customize the Follett ACCESS Program

The Follett ACCESS program is very flexible. Institutions choose from options that work best for them.

1 Course Material Format - Materials can be print, rental, digital courseware, eBooks and OER, or the format can be a mix of all types of materials.

2 Charges Passed On to Students - Charges can be passed on to students as course material charges.

3 Course or Term - Institutions can build the cost of Follett ACCESS into tuition, based on each course in which a student is enrolled or for each term enrolled. 

4 Custom or Flat Charges - Charges are based on participating parties and can either be customized for each material adopted or issued as charges by course/term.

5 Student Enrollment Choice. Choose either:

  • Opt-Out: Provisions all students in the Follett ACCESS program by default. If a student does not want to participate, the institution can choose to allow an opt-out.
  • Opt-In: Requires students to opt-in to the program by taking an action such as clicking a link on an email or enrolling in the program on a Follett site.

Digital-only Option

For institutions that select the digital-only format for course materials, Follett offers Instant Access with Follett ACCESS, which produces even greater savings for students because it only incorporates digital assets that generally cost less than corresponding new print editions. Students are auto-enrolled into their digital content with a single sign-on (SSO), eliminating the need to manage multiple log-ins and user accounts.

For example, at Alamo Community College, costs for digital materials are passed on to students as course material charges through a program called IM Direct. By choosing digital-only materials for some courses, the college is actively lowering costs for students while making it convenient to
access the materials.

“It is an excellent concept, saves $$$$ for students in the long run, eliminates complaints about the price of textbooks, and ensures they have all materials for each course. There is no doubt this is an advantage.”20

“Having textbooks online means I won’t lose one or forget to bring one home or to class. I have access to them 24/7.”21

Convenience from the Beginning

Making it easier for students to succeed is a goal of every learning institution. Quick and easy access to course materials at a set price through Follett ACCESS delivers significant convenience and accessibility for students:

Print — course packs of new, used and/rental books can be preassembled by the bookstore for no-hassle pickup by students.

“The books always arrive on time and are always in great condition — even if they’re used.”22

Digital — easy-to-use SSO provides students fast access to all online resources from one place.

“I can access my textbooks from anywhere as long as I have my laptop or internet connection.”23

Students like the stress-free aspect of the Follett ACCESS program because they do not need to worry about finding and paying for course materials as they settle in for the
semester. For freshmen, it’s an especially welcome program as they transition to a new type of learning environment and have many adjustments to make. Materials are delivered in the same way that many of them are used to getting them in elementary, middle and high school. Even parents appreciate Follett ACCESS because they know that their students have exactly the right materials needed to succeed in their courses.

“When my son learned that his textbooks would be included, he felt like Xavier appreciated and wanted him, that he was being rewarded and celebrated. It was a message to him that Xavier valued him and would value him. No other school sent this type of message as strongly. Everyone wants to be at a place where they are wanted. He later learned that it was a benefit to all incoming freshmen, but it spoke to him, and I’m convinced that his financial aid package, which included the Day One program, significantly influenced his decision to attend Xavier.”24

Benefits for All Participants

Follett ACCESS produces benefits for all the participants in the program: institutions, faculty and students.


Colleges and universities are proactively seeking ways to lower the cost of course materials for students. In addition, administrators are acutely aware that academic outcomes have a direct and measurable impact on institutional success — class and student retention and graduation rates affect reputation, recruiting and funding.

Follett ACCESS helps institutions:

• Gain a competitive advantage by increasing recruitment, retention and ultimately graduation rates
• Improve academic performance and help students complete their studies
• Directly address the cost and complexity of obtaining course materials
• Leverage existing systems to provide a robust learning experience for students

For example, in Spring 2018, the University of Florida provided course materials through the UF All Access program at an average of about $76 compared to $155 for standalone access codes or new book purchases, a 37 percent savings. The savings are even higher when compared to average standalone book+code packages of $228. The program delivered materials for 142 courses and served more than 16,000 students.25 

“At Fayetteville State University, already economically disadvantaged students were further impacted by rising course material costs. With Follett ACCESS, students reported significantly lower costs and felt better prepared on the first day of class with all of their required course materials.”26


Faculty have historically been challenged by inconsistent levels of student preparedness, particularly at the beginning of the term — some percentage of each class either has
not obtained the course materials, has obtained only a portion of the required materials or has obtained the wrong materials, such as an older edition.

Follett ACCESS helps faculty:

• Have the academic freedom to choose the content provider, edition and medium that best fit the class curriculum
• Know that everyone in class will have the same edition on day one
• Let Follett troubleshoot and provide instructions for accessing materials
• Support higher academic performance for all with a leveled playing field

Jude Kiah, assistant vice president for auxiliary services at Xavier University, is enthused about the Follett ACCESS program because it doesn’t limit what titles professors can select and “is a very positive way to support students in the pursuit of education.”

“Students have the potential of being much better prepared and seem much more capable of keeping pace with the syllabus. I consider this highly valuable.”27



Students are under a great deal of pressure in college, whether they are first-year freshmen learning to navigate the college experience, mature students with jobs or other demands on their time or financially strapped students for whom every nickel counts.

Follett ACCESS helps students: 

• Save significantly on course materials — up to 30 percent lower than if sourced or purchased directly by students
• Reduce stress during the purchasing process
• Easily access, manage and use all course materials regardless of format or cost
• Engage and learn on the first day of class by having access to all required course materials — regardless of background or financial status

Seventy-two percent of University of Florida students surveyed say that the opt-in program through UF All Access is a good value, and 82 percent like the convenience of
accessing eBooks through provided links.28

“ I start going over material ahead of time and don’t feel lost during the class.”29

Proof of Savings
Course materials are essential to success, yet many students struggle to pay for materials, with more than one-third opting to go without some required materials because of cost. In a Follett survey of students, 70 percent agree that accessing learning materials via Follett ACCESS made their lives easier. Seventy-six percent said that they received the same or a greater level of value with the Follett ACCESS program.30

“It includes the students who have had to wait a month for loan money to come in to buy their books. Everyone is on the same playing field.” 31

“I think it is great for students because textbooks are so expensive. It was nice to have the eText as well as a more affordable version of the actual textbook.” 32

Institutions that implement the Follett ACCESS program gather data to evaluate the effectiveness of lowering costs. Results show that the bulk purchasing power of the program enables significant savings to be passed on to students.

“We surveyed our students, and they overwhelmingly said that they supported the program because of the cost savings that it provided.”33

Savings reported by institutions represent significant cost reductions for student learning materials. At the University of Florida for the Fall 2017–Spring 2018 academic year, the UF All Access program saved students $7.6 million compared to the cost for the same book+code package or new book purchases.34 

A community college in Tennessee saved more than $600,000 in total course material costs in 2016.35

At Morehouse College, Chief Procurement Officer and Associate Vice President of Procurement and Contracts Ralph Johnson says, “Follett provided lower-cost course material options ... they have also kept us on the leading edge through various initiatives that they have introduced to our campus.”

Better Grades, Increased Success

Delivering Change for Higher Education

As institutions and students seek ways to lower the costs of higher education, Follett ACCESS helps reduce the amount of course materials by sharing the benefits of bulk purchasing for new and used textbooks, digital learning materials and OER. The challenge to make learning materials more affordable is achievable while at the same time promoting retention and student success.

Follett ACCESS is the perfect union of publishers, schools, faculty and Follett — coming together to improve access to course materials, enhance engagement and learning
outcomes, help make course materials more affordable and ultimately foster better student outcomes.

While students can save up to 30 percent on course materials, faculty members enjoy freedom to choose from hundreds of thousands of titles and more than 6,000 publishers to best fit their needs. But Follett ACCESS is bigger than cost or convenience. It's about reducing student stress and increasing preparedness, so people can succeed.
It’s no wonder why institutions across the nation are using Follett ACCESS to see a positive impact on recruitment, class retention, graduation rates and academic
performance measures.

About Follett Higher Education Group

Our purpose is to “Improve the World by Inspiring Learning and Shaping Education.” For over 145 years, we have been doing just that by bringing together affordable educational content, products and technologies to prepare learners and educators, term after term. Follett manages all formats of affordability programs at more than 1,200 campuses in North America, resulting in lower costs and better access to learning materials. We are proud to serve as a trusted partner that fosters higher student success rates and influences positive outcomes.

For more information about what Follett is doing to make learning materials more affordable, visit: www.follett.com/affordability. For more information about the Follett ACCESS program, visit: www.follett.com/FollettACCESS.

Cited References:

1 Martin, Emmie. (2017, November 29) “Here’s How Much More Expensive It Is for You to Go to College than It Was for Your Parents.” CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has-increased-from-1988-to-2018.html
2 Kristof, Kathy. (2018, January 26) “What’s behind the soaring cost of college textbooks.” CBS MoneyWatch. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/whats-behind-the-soaring-cost-of-college-textbooks/
3 College Board. “Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets, 2017–18.” Retrieved from https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-2017–18
4 Survey of college students ("Follett ACCESS Student Survey") by Follett Higher Education Group, Spring 2019.
5 Surveys of college students (“Follett Student Survey”) and faculty (“Faculty Survey 2012”) by Follett Higher Education Group, February 2012.
6 Survey of college faculty (“Follett ACCESS Faculty Survey”) by Follett Higher Education Group, Spring 2019.
7 Jaschik, Scott and Leder, Doug. “2017 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, A Study by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup.” Inside Higher Ed.
8 Student Monitor™. “Converting data to insight, Lifestyle & Media — Spring 2018.” Student Monitor, LLC.

9 The NPD Group. “U.S. Student Attitudes Towards Content in Higher Education.” July 2017.
10 VitalSource Technologies, Fall 2018.
11 Follett Higher Education Group. Internal sell-through data research based on 1,200 stores.
12 Follett Higher Education Group. Internal sell-through data research based on 1,200 stores.
13 Follett internal data, April 2017–March 2018.

14 The NPD Group. “U.S. Student Attitudes Towards Content in Higher Education.” July 2017.
15 Jaschik, Scott and Leder, Doug. 2017 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, A Study by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup. Inside Higher Ed.
16 Fischer, L., Hilton, J., Robinson, T.J. et al. J Comput High Educ (2015) 27: 159. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x
17 The NPD Group. “U.S. Student Attitudes Towards Content in Higher Education.” July 2017.

18 Survey of college students ("Follett ACCESS Student Survey") by Follett Higher Education Group, Spring 2019.
19 St. Thomas University student response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.

20 St. Thomas University faculty response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.
21 Victoria Williamson, psychology major at the University of Florida, “UF shifts to e-textbooks saving students money and lightening their load,” The Gainesville Sun, March 21, 2018.
22 St. Thomas University student response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.
23 Victoria Williamson, psychology major at the University of Florida, “UF shifts to e-textbooks, saving students money and lightening their load,” The Gainesville Sun, March 21, 2018.
24 Jill C. Rice, parent of an Xavier University student.  

25 University of Florida report on UF All Access program, September 2018.
26 Donald Pearsall, assistant vice chancellor auxiliary services, Fayetteville State University.
27 St. Thomas University faculty response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.
28 University of Florida report on UF All Access program, September 2018.
29 St. Thomas University student response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.

30 University of Florida report on UF All Access program, September 2018.
31 Surveys of Follett ACCESS college students by Follett Higher Education Group, February and May 2015.
32 St. Thomas University faculty response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.
33 University of Florida report on UF All Access program, September 2018.
34 Joseph Alston, director of business services, Fayetteville State University.
35 University of Florida report on UF All Access program, September 2018.
36 Results provided by a partner community college in Tennessee, June 2017.

37 St. Thomas University student response in a survey conducted by St. Thomas University about the Follett ACCESS program, August 2017.