UT implements inclusive access textbook program, leaving some students confused

Sheryl Lawrence

UT is implementing a pilot program that offers inclusive access to digital course content through the University Co-op this spring, but some students are confused by its rollout.  

The Longhorn Textbook Access program provides students access to all the materials for one course on Canvas, and allows students to pay for all the materials together. Students are charged the cost of the course materials through their What I Owe accounts unless they opt out, which must be done by the 12th class day. If the student does not pay by the 20th class day, access to course materials will be canceled and the charge will be removed from What I Owe. 

Eleven classes are using the program this spring.

Dave Platt, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, said the program uses the University’s and the Co-op’s negotiating powers to get students the best possible textbook prices. Platt said the program will have a full rollout in the fall if the pilot goes well, and instructors will be able to choose if they want to participate in the program.

“Any faculty member who wants to adopt a Longhorn Textbook Access textbook for their classes will be able to do so,” Platt said.

Cheryl Phifer, president and CEO of the University Co-op, said the program focuses on digital textbooks, which are less expensive to distribute than physical textbooks. She said these savings are passed onto the students.

“When a physical textbook is being used, there's a cost to ship that book to the Co-op, there's a cost to unbox it, to get it ready to put on the shelf (and) to get it on the shelf,” Phifer said. 

As the program grows, Phifer said the Co-op will likely not carry physical textbooks for classes in the program.

Neuroscience freshman Sneha Kamal is taking two classes using the program: Genetics and Organic Chemistry 1. She said she only received one email regarding the program from the Co-op, but not from the University or her professors, and opted out. Kamal said she thinks the program should be on an opt-in basis.

“It's more of a hassle for students to actually opt out, and some may forget to do it,” Kamal said. “They have to pay even if they didn't want to, but if it's an opt-in thing, people who actually want to be a part of the program are part of it.”

Platt said the University chose to have faculty members and the Co-op communicate with students about the program to avoid confusion.

“We made the judgment that if we send something out to all these students and most of them aren't in a course that has this kind of book, there's going to be mass confusion,” Platt said.

Accounting lecturer John McGuire, who is using the program for his Managerial Accounting class, said the program benefits professors who use outside homework managers because students do not have to purchase course materials through an outside link. 

“I've been teaching this course for four years,” McGuire said. “Every semester, I have students have challenges trying to get their access, and they end up waiting and trying to call the help desk and waiting and waiting.”