Seven out of 10 students say they would have better grades if they had access to required course materials before the first day of class. In the third part of our Back-to-College series, we examine why early access to textbooks is so important to student success and retention, and what colleges and universities can do to encourage students to not only buy their books before classes begin, but start reading.
The number one online tip for college students getting ready to start classes: Read ahead. Buying learning materials in advance — before the start of class — allows students to devote some summer hours to processing the new material. The wisdom of this advice becomes clear when you consider the numbers.
A full-time student with a four-class schedule must devote 12 to 20 hours a week solely to reading. That’s not impossible, but when you add in other forms of study — writing, research and test prep — college is a full-time job. Many students are also employed part-time or participate in athletics or music. Some join sororities and fraternities. Plus, most college students want a social life as well.
Reading before the term starts is fundamentally pragmatic. Whether it’s athletics, concerts, friends or Greek life, non-academic activities can easily overwhelm weekly schedules. And for non-traditional students, the importance of reading ahead can be even greater. Children, bosses and spouses don’t plan emergencies around study time. Research shows that cracking the books before the term starts and staying on top of assigned readings can be the difference between failing and succeeding if an everyday life crisis arises mid-term.
A study published in the American Journal of Physics found that 75 percent of students who completed reading before class reported an improvement in their learning. Students in the study were given a critical incentive: weekly quizzes devoted to each assigned reading. The results showed overall improved learning outcomes. Another study published in the journal CBE Life Sciences Education demonstrated that students who read ahead are more likely to interact in class — another source of improved learning outcomes.
So, how can colleges and universities encourage students to not only buy their books before classes begin, but start reading? One option growing in popularity is inclusive access programs like Barnes & Noble College’s First Day. With inclusive access, colleges build the cost of course materials into student fees or tuition. Because the purchases are guaranteed, publishers are willing to offer these books at a much lower price. Students don’t have to do any extra shopping or budgeting for textbooks — and they save money.
Perhaps most importantly, students are guaranteed to have their books before classes start. Studies show that students who have their textbooks experience better academic performance. According to a VitalSource study, 70 percent of students say they would have better grades if they had access to required textbooks and course materials before the first day of class. That means faculty can start engaging students with the material on day one. It means there is more time in the term for assessment, review and discussion — and more opportunity for students to thrive.
In addition, faculty to adopt courseware with self-grading quizzes that give students extra incentive to prepare. Introductory courses for majors like biology, psychology and economics often enroll as many as 200 students in a class, who might rightly believe that no one will notice if they haven’t done the reading or don’t have the textbook. Of course, students know they’re struggling to follow the lecture. They know they’re probably not learning as much as they could, but too often they keep telling themselves they’ll get caught up. Then, suddenly, finals arrive and it’s too late to drop the class.
Students need all their required course materials in order to succeed in the classroom, but they need them at affordable price points, on the first day of class. By embracing new digital learning material programs like inclusive access and courseware, schools can help their students be prepared, save money and ultimately succeed.