RALEIGH – The Raleigh-based edtech startup VitalSource Technologies, LLC has been awarded the 2021 IMS Learning Impact Award for its partnership program, Equitable Access, delivered in collaboration with the University of California, Davis.

The award-winning program delivers digital course materials through the University’s learning management system, known in edtech circles as an LMS, for a flat, per-term fee of $199 per term. Students are automatically opted into the program, but can choose to opt-out, the company said in a release announcing the award.

According to data from UC Davis, students who used the program were 17% less likely to drop a course than those who chose to opt-out of the program, which the company and university said suggested “that having immediate, streamlined access to more affordable digital course materials helped support academic persistence.”

A survey of students at UC Davis found that 60% reported the program was “easier and more convenient than finding textbooks on my own.”

In addition, 69 percent of participating students reported a belief that anticipating a single, one-time fee per academic term enabled them to more freely choose courses they were most interested in studying.

“In other words, students no longer allowed the cost of materials, which can be more expensive for fields like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), to inform whether or not they pursued a specific academic program,” the statement jointly issued by UC Davis and VitalSource reads.

The program was one of two gold medal award recipients, out of 28 finalists.  There were two platinum level medals granted, as well.  A video entry about the program is available to view publicly.

North Carolina A&T announces textbooks for students will be free

Earlier this week, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, or NC A&T, based in Greensboro, announced a partnership with Barnes & Noble College that will result in students gaining access to any and all required textbooks at no additional cost to the student.

That means: students will receive all textbooks, free.

The program will apply for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 academic years, and the university will invest funding from the federal CARES Act to make the program, known as BNC First Day® Complete possible.

The program will lower the cost to attend the institution by about $1,000 per year, according to a statement issued this week by the university.

“This program will help alleviate financial pressures often associated with pursuing higher education for many students, especially first-generation students and those with limited financial resources,” said Beryl McEwen, Ph.D., provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at NC A&T in the statement.  “Our undergraduates will begin the academic year with an added layer of confidence and be able to focus on their studies without the worry of textbook costs.”

In a study released earlier this year summarizing the poll responses from college students across the United States conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 65% of respondents said they did not purchase a textbook for a class, despite also simultaneously believing that purchasing the textbook would enhance their grade.

“COVID-19 has raised the barriers students face both financially and technologically to access course materials, even if it has not necessarily made course materials more expensive,” the study found.  The authors also noted that the transition to remote learning, issues with access to reliable internet, and economic insecurity during the pandemic made a challenging situation even worse for some college students, as 79% reported being impacted in some way by the pandemic.

NC A&T previously offered students participation in the BNC First Day® program, which reduced costs of textbook ownership through allowing digital access.  Now, the university is removing all textbook and course material costs from the equation.  It also announced that it will not increase tuition for the 2021-2022 academic and that it dispersed more than $14 million in emergency student aid during the 2020-2021 academic year, and plans to provide dining and housing scholarship support to students for 2021-2022 as well.