As a college committed to being student-ready and serving the community, Tarrant County College continually evaluates opportunities to make education more accessible and more affordable. To say that textbooks are expensive would be an understatement, so like many other colleges, TCC is offering an Inclusive Access program through which students will have textbooks on the first day of class at a very affordable cost. Underscoring the benefits of more savings—both in time and in money—for TCC students, this inclusive access program is called TCC Plus.
This new program is one way the College meets the needs of our increasing population of 21st century students for whom digital technology is a given. For those students who still need to touch or hold a traditional textbook, a reasonably priced print option is available.
In October 2016, the former vice chancellor of finance invited three members of the District faculty association Joint Consultation Committee (JCC) and several campus presidents to attend the Educause conference, an annual event focused on information technology solutions to higher education issues. TCC attendees were united around the central purpose of balancing faculty selection of quality resources with cost savings for our students.
During the conference, TCC faculty had the opportunity to speak with every major publisher regarding models for saving students money on textbooks. One of the more impressive models that emerged from those conversations was “inclusive access.” Early that year, the U.S. Department of Education released new regulations that allowed federal funds to be used in a fee-based model (with strong restrictions) in favor of students. Among other things, students had to be able to opt-out of the fee, and textbooks had to be delivered digitally at below market prices. Nationwide, today’s inclusive access programs follow the themes set forth in those regulations.
The Educause conference provided abundant research materials, which participants brought back to TCC. The meetings of the conference ignited a fire that would become the current TCC Plus program.
Through extensive research of colleges and universities where this program was in place, the team recognized a common theme of energized faculty using digital, innovative teaching models; however, after hearing first-hand testimonies from students about the benefits of inclusive access, the fire became an inferno. Team members became more determined than ever to build a program that worked best for TCC and the students it serves.
Forming the Project Team
It all began in 2017 when a cross-functional project team was formed that focused on the three A’s: Access, Affordability and Achievement.
In the spring of 2018, the pilot (or “soft launch”) of Inclusive Access included 23 faculty members from multiple disciplines who willingly volunteered to be early adopters of the program.
Research performed by the team indicated inclusive access implementations are really many separate systems and processes working together for the common purpose of student savings. “It required reaching beyond common academic silos and implementing very manual processes,” said Tyson McMillan, chair of the JCC. “While we are doing something that has never been done before in the history of community colleges and that is exciting, it is also very manual. The team’s mantra became ‘Automatic does not happen automatically.’”
What is TCC Plus?
TCC Plus is a program that allows students to include the price of their digital textbooks in their tuition payment, access the digital textbooks online and be fully prepared on the first day of class. Most digital textbooks are nearly half the price of course materials available through the publisher or bookstore and the cost is covered by Financial Aid funds. Digital textbooks also include a reasonably priced print option.
To locate TCC Plus courses and the pricing for the digital textbooks, students can log in to WebAdvisor and find the sections designated by the plus sign icon.
The program began with 23 sections and grew to 82 sections for Fall 2018. For Fall 2019, more than 250 sections are designated as TCC Plus courses, with more courses expected to be added each term. TCC students saw an average savings of $56 per course material and a 98 percent opt-in rate for the program.
Both faculty and students benefit from TCC Plus. Enthusiasm for the program is growing among faculty. Faculty members have academic freedom to participate in the program and assurance that students can have textbooks on the first day of class. “Students can hit the ground running. Also, they like the convenience of not having to track down books at the bookstore or online,” said Steve Smiley, computer science instructor at TCC Northwest.
Shereah Taylor, associate professor of education at TCC South, agrees. “Access to materials on the first day has given students the chance to follow along with the syllabus and course calendar from the beginning,” she said. “When students see the course expectations along with the textbook on the first day, they know what is expected immediately and can pace themselves accordingly. As the coordinator of Teacher Education at TCC South, I have committed our introduction course to using TCC Plus.”
Additionally, faculty members have access to ancillary tools to enhance instruction, as well as data showing students are accessing digital materials. “I strive to provide students with the most affordable options possible,” said Randy Jackson, department chair of Business and Computer Science at TCC Connect. “I will continue to explore additional courses to add TCC Plus to as well as to continue communicating the benefits for students to faculty.”
TCC students benefit from the program in a number of ways. Textbooks are more affordable than the printed versions; however, there is a reasonable cost print option available. They are covered by Financial Aid funds. Digital access is available the first day of class on Blackboard. Finally, students may opt out of TCC Plus by the Census Date in the semester.
Moving Forward with TCC Plus
Incorporating TCC Plus in a course requires many departments to work together. Inclusive Access is expanding nationwide, but the technology supporting it is in the process of being developed. TCC is ahead of the game on many fronts and will continue to find ways to automate and make Inclusive Access a leading choice for faculty and students.
Find more information about TCC Plus.
About the Authors
Tyson McMillan is department chair of Computer Science and Information Technology and Sharon Moore is assistant director of Student Learning Materials.