Academic Solutions · Article

Equitable Access Improves Student Outcomes: 3 Types of Data Confirm It

November 17, 2022

Equitable access has grown by approximately 95% in the U.S. since 2019, estimates Dr. Michael Moore, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire studying course material initiatives and how they impact student outcomes. As more and more colleges and universities implement equitable access programs like First Day® Complete, it creates more opportunities to gather data. The results are clear: equitable access to course materials improves student outcomes and experiences.

In our recent webinar, The Equitable Access Impact: New Data on Student Outcomes, Barnes & Noble College and guest experts explored data and insights from three different angles. BNC’s proprietary research on student satisfaction was affirmed by Dr. Moore’s independent student success study on equitable access and course completion rates. Dr. Allison Gillespie provided firsthand institutional feedback on the positive effects of First Day Complete at The University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss). Watch the full conversation.

Student Satisfaction

BNC recently conducted a survey with students who participated in First Day Complete during the Spring 2022 term. The response – reflecting the perspective of students on 76 campuses across the nation – was positive. Based on their experiences, students confirmed the program bolstered their academic success. A significant majority said they were better prepared (83%) and even credited the program with helping them get better grades (73%).

The national survey results were strong, and the numbers at Southern Miss were similar – or even higher. During the webinar, Dr. Gillespie explained the challenges students had faced before the program’s implementation and how it’s been used to better support their academic journey.

Institutional Feedback

Before First Day Complete, students at Southern Miss often started the term unprepared – a trend seen at many institutions nationwide.

“What we know from historical behavior is half of our students would get their materials before the first day of class – if they even purchased them,” said Dr. Gillespie. “And about 25% of those students actually waited until after the first week of class, which can really put a student at a disadvantage. Especially when classwork and some of these upper-level classes start day one or even before the semester.”

With First Day Complete, all students receive all their required course materials, print and digital, by the first day of class through a highly personalized, simplified process. The cost is either bundled in tuition or applied as a course charge, removing the burden for payment for all students. For those using financial aid to purchase or rent materials, it fundamentally levels the playing field; they no longer need to wait until leftover funds are disbursed, which often takes place after the start of the term.

“Having this program in place has really made that ease of access and that ease of affordability. It makes it easier for students to be prepared. They’re not having to figure out where am I going to get the book? Who can I borrow it from? Is it going to be available? And I really do think, especially for new students, having those materials on day one makes a difference. It has made a difference in their success in the course because they’re not playing catch-up,” she added.

Student Success

It’s also important to understand how equitable access programs affect student outcomes. Dr. Moore shared findings from his study of community college students, which showed that participants in an equitable access program are much more likely to complete a course than non-participants.

The study also showed increases in course completion rates across multiple demographic groups – including a few that were new within the existing research on equitable access.

“Where we get into the really interesting details is when we look at the breakdown of race and ethnicity,” said Dr. Moore. “For the first time that I’ve been able to find as a researcher, we’ve been able to break out Asian students, Native American students and students who identify as two or more races as their own standalone category for analysis. So this is a really great opportunity for us to benchmark the impact that equitable access has on these particular demographics.”

“What I also want to look at is Black students. If you identified as Black and you opted out [of the program], you only completed the course at a 39% rate. Whereas if you stayed in, it was 60% –a 21% difference. That is tremendous growth, especially if you also look at two or more races, which is 22%. These are pretty interesting numbers when we look at what happens for students if they opt out of an equitable access program,” he added.

Implications and Opportunities

Equitable access data and insights collected to date are incredibly positive, but research will continue to further develop our understanding of its impact. Dr. Moore offered his perspective on the implications of his work, which shows an opportunity to improve additional measures of student success.

“I believe from my research is that there is a chance for us to impact college completion [obtaining a degree in 150% of time or six years] over the long term,” he said.

“What I’m seeing and what I believe is happening is that equitable access is one of the most immediate, impactful interventions that could be undertaken in higher ed. And we know from research that first semester GPA is very critical to students’ persistence and retention. So, it’s not hard to extrapolate and say that if we’re able to move students more quickly through classes and towards degree attainment and keep their GPA elevated, that we’re likely to have more success overall.”

To learn more, watch The Equitable Access Impact: New Data on Student Outcomes.

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