University signs contract with Pearson Education

The University of Alaska Anchorage recently signed a contract with the education publishing company Pearson. The agreement allows the university to start shifting from the traditional way of purchasing course materials to an inclusive access model.

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UAA recently signed a contract with the textbook publisher Pearson. The contract enables students to buy digital copies of Pearson books at the lowest price available. Photo credit: Pearson

The inclusive access business model is becoming increasingly popular among universities across the nation. Publishers offering this model agree to offer digital course materials at the lowest cost available to universities on contract.

Pearson is operating in more than 70 countries and headquartered in Great Britain. The biggest portion of the company’s sales is generated in the United States.

Monte Burton, manager of the UAA Campus Bookstore, says that with the contract, they are supposed to get the “best deal” for students.

“If we find that book cheaper somewhere else, we can contact Pearson and say, ‘Hey, so and so has this book cheaper, can you lower the price?’” Burton said.

Students will be able to acquire their materials from different sources if they prefer to do so.

“No student has to do this,” Interim Chancellor Sam Gingerich said at the UAA Faculty Senate meeting on April 6.

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Students will have the option to opt out until the end of the add-drop period, Burton explained. If they go for the inclusive access plan, their student account will automatically be charged with the costs of the digital copy.

The textbook manager emphasizes the convenience of this new model for the students and the bookstore.

“It is going to be completely digital and we won’t have to order something and have it shipped here,” Burton said. “It will be ready for the student day one going into class.”

Students that prefer a hard copy to the digital one, but still want to stay in the inclusive action plan, have the option of getting a loose-leaf version of the textbook for an additional fee.

“A lot of schools have already been doing this process for a few years now and they said most students end up not opting for the print version,” Burton said. “My experience here is that most students still like to have a print version, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Faculty members voiced concerns about the contract restricting their choice for course materials. This is not the case, according to Burton.

“The contract in no way limits what the professor can pick [for their course materials],” Burton said.

The bookstore is planning to do test-runs for inclusive access plans with other publishers as well.

Veronica Howard, assistant professor of psychology and member of the Academic Computing, Distance Learning, Instructional Technology and eLearning, says the inclusive access strategy is supposed to be a “win-win-win situation.”

“The student gets the book day one, they make progress, they don’t have to worry about things being delivered… The university wins because students… are more likely to succeed when they have their have their materials early. And obviously, it’s a win for the publisher because though they are charging everybody less they are guaranteed a revenue stream,” Howard said. “Whether this is going to be a good long-term plan is hard to say.”

Howard is an advocate of open educational resources and part of the Inclusive Access Task Force that was formed to address concerns of faculty with the Pearson contract.

The task force will also be looking at another part of the contract targeting data analytics for student success. The specifics of this portion have not been provided to the task force yet, according to Howard.

“I don’t imagine that there’s anybody on this campus not dedicated to student success, but I think that we should have more information [about the contract],” Howard said.

The inclusive access portion of the contract will be tested over the summer semester in biology and nutrition classes. More courses will be added to the plan in fall 2018.