Equal pricing does not make Equitable Access a fair program
Students who withdraw from the program face lengthy refund processes and difficulties in accessing required materials
With a new term comes preparing for classes, reading endless programs and, most often for many members of the editorial board, turning off fair access. The term system is notorious for its fast-paced nature, and for those who choose to opt out, having to complete the online form before the term even begins is ridiculous. Although Equitable Access was launched in 2020 with good intentions, the flat, flat rate is a bad solution because everyone has different textbook needs.
This program was advertised as reducing the burden that textbook prices place on students and simplifying the process of accessing course materials. However, the quarterly withdrawal process is both cumbersome and inefficient. Students can withdraw on their own on the Equitable Access website until the Sunday evening before the start of term, but will then need to email Equitable Access to withdraw until the 20th day of teaching, which is the final deadline.
Since Equitable Access is likely to receive a huge volume of emails in the first few days of the term, it may take days for them to respond and, according to on the UC Davis Store website, two to five business days after that, for the refund to appear in the student’s account. Not everyone has the financial security to wait around $200 when they may need to pay rent, car insurance, utilities and more by a specific date. Since emailing Equitable Access further lengthens the refund process, students should be able to unsubscribe on the Equitable Access site until the 20th day of teaching. But students shouldn’t be automatically enrolled in a $169 program in the first place — instead, everyone should be unenrolled by default and given the choice to enroll.
To advocate for automatic enrollment of all students, UC Davis compared Equitable access to fees that support essential services such as Unitrans and mental health resources. However, this is a poor comparison, since these other two costs are much less that equitable access and were vote by the students. We understand that textbook publishers might not have agreed to participate in Equitable Access without all students being enrolled by default, but this decision was made by the administration, with many students feeling little or no help. agency, and its high cost and lengthy reimbursement process can make pressure on vulnerable students unnecessary.
U.C. Davis highlighted ease of access to materials with Equitable Access, but Equitable Access also makes obtaining textbooks much less convenient, if not impossible, for students who have opted out. Some niche books are better available at the bookstore, but the campus store stopped selling most print materials outside of Equitable Access after the program launched. These printed books can be specially ordered via the bookstore for those who have unsubscribed from Equitable Access, but the current shipping estimate is two to two and a half weeks, or more than one-fifth of the entire quarter. Equitable Access is convenient, but only for students in a position to pay – anyone who opts out, including the vulnerable students it seeks to help, is far more inconvenienced.
Equitable access is also unnecessary for some classes, as many instructors are aware of the pressure expensive textbooks place on students and go out of their way to provide free, open-access materials for their courses. This term, two members of the Editorial Board had no Fair Access materials and were still automatically enrolled in the program. This is unacceptable – even though money is not charged if you unenroll before the start of term or is eventually refunded otherwise, some students are charged for something that provides absolutely no service to them. At the very least, students who have no equitable access materials should be automatically excluded.
Of course, buying any new material would cost a fortune without equitable access, but many students buy used books, borrow from the library, or find free PDFs online. Students have other priorities like food, rent, utilities, and more, so buying expensive textbooks may seem less necessary. $169 can be a month of races for a frugal buyer, a large part of the rent or an important safety net. Although this may be more affordable for some students than buying textbooks, other students voiced their concerns about the price when the program was launched.
We understand that UC Davis cannot require all instructors to use open source textbooks for their courses. Changing textbooks can mean a lot of extra work for instructors, as some may have material they’re more familiar with, and e-books with access codes for online assignments drastically reduce time spent grading.
However, encouraging instructors to adopt open source textbooks and providing them with support to find relevant free materials would increase equity by removing the price of vital learning sources altogether. Additionally, making UC Davis lab textbooks free to download for students to print would help reduce the cost of STEM materials. This is not uncommon – when classes were online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some lab classes provided the textbooks in PDF format on Canvas (and some still do).
Equity is defined as providing different levels and types of support to groups with different needs in order to achieve equal results. Since fair access treats everyone equally, it would be more appropriate to call it “equal access”. We appreciate that UC Davis cares about textbook prices and wants to help students succeed, but Equitable Access in its current form isn’t the best solution. U.C. Davis predicted the cost of Equitable Access will decrease over time (and he has), but that does little to help his current students who are struggling to afford the program right now.
Written by: Editorial Board