A Roadmap for Launching Campus-Wide Access: Purdue University Northwest

April 25, 2024

By Stephen R. Turner, Vice Chancellor Finance and Administration at Purdue University Northwest

Purdue University Northwest is unlike other regional campuses in a number of ways. We operate two campuses 35 miles apart, which means our students can choose between a rural educational setting near iconic Lake Michigan beaches or a more traditional residential setting adjacent to a vibrant urban center, both of which give the sense of a close-knit campus community. We are a Hispanic Serving Institution and the most diverse within the Purdue University system. We’re proud that our Honors College is the most diverse in the state of Indiana.

However, like many regional institutions, we experienced significant enrollment pressures over the past several years and observed a consistent downtrend in campus store commission sales after seeing fierce competition from places like Amazon. We needed to put our limited resources in places that benefited our students directly. The campus-wide Equitable Access program we launched in Fall 2023 has been instrumental in supporting our mission to assist students throughout their academic journey. Its ongoing success is a testament to the power of partnership and collaboration. As the first and only school in Indiana to implement this program, we are proud that Purdue Northwest is setting a precedent as a leader not just in our state but across the Midwest.

Responding to Challenges

A few years ago, we recognized that an Inclusive or Equitable Access Program could be an opportunity for our campus community to help improve affordability and convenience of obtaining course materials. When choosing between an IA or EA model, we knew we were dedicated to benefiting our entire student population. We needed a transformative model to overcome the challenges PNW students were facing, and Equitable Access offered the right large-scale solution.

Socializing a Solution

Student Surveys

First and foremost, our Equitable Access program is a student success initiative. As such, there was no intention or requirement to generate a net profit. We knew that students saw the high cost of textbooks as a barrier to degree achievement, and we conducted multiple student surveys to confirm our understanding. Based upon the survey results and discussions we had with the campus community, we identified that students were interested in the convenience and lower costs offered by an Access program.

Faculty Engagement

At the same time, we began actively engaging faculty. They were asked to populate the Instructional Material Program committee and were offered several informational and training sessions prior to implementation. Our engagement efforts confirmed a large portion of students were not purchasing instructional materials on time—and sometimes not at all. Faculty shared our desire to help students and liked that an Access program would still provide flexible options to support their preferred teaching materials and methods.

Encouraged by the feedback, our senior leadership team was confident the Equitable Access model would address student concerns and those expressed by faculty about student’s ability to have the materials they needed to be successful in the classroom.

Putting Our Plan into Action

There seemed to be sufficient support for the program and a willingness for change, to do something new and different. Everyone was excited by the student benefits: reduced costs, predictable charges, financial aid compatibility, and convenience.

We began having more structured conversations with stakeholders at PNW and at Follett to create a plan—putting numbers to the options and shaping a timeline. We made sure to complete our due diligence before proceeding with each step.

Exciting Results

The program launched in Fall 2023 with 85% of our students participating. We’re looking forward to that number going up, but considering that this program is the first of its kind in our region, this outcome surpassed our expectations. The average savings per student is $600 per year. We’re excited by these early results and recently distributed another round of surveys, one targeting the students who opted out, to identify ways to improve going forward.

We’re working with the bursar’s office, registrar procurement, and within our finance and business services office to learn from the Fall implementation. Currently, some state aid cannot be used to pay for the program, and we continue to navigate the requirements of some scholarships as well. Doing this behind-the-scenes work will make things easier in the spring.

The program has opened up other opportunities to impact student success as well. As the method of delivery for our Equitable Access program is primarily digital, we considered reimagining the space in the campus store previously designated for textbooks. While keeping some items available, we decided to move the store into a smaller space and have repurposed the 8,000 sq ft for a new multimedia studio for students.

Measuring Future Success

Moving into the next semester and beyond, we are committed to continuing to track the outcomes of this program and to assess how it has impacted our students at PNW. We hope to show a correlation between their participation in EA and their success rate in the classroom.

Our tracking will measure four major areas of data:

  1. Student success as measured by retention and graduation as well as other indicators that can point to those trends improving over time.
  2. Annual cost of instructional materials.
  3. Participation rate among students.
  4. Relative proportion of digital material adopted by the faculty. If they are increasingly confident this model is better for their students and better for their method of teaching, we will see an increased percentage of involvement which should, in turn, reduce costs even further.

We want to continue to remove the obstacles placed in front of our students, and provide support wherever possible, to offer a clear path to degree attainment. I’d love to get to the point where the price for Access materials is zero—where we can absorb the cost entirely into the composite fee structures we already have in place. In my opinion, that would be a perfect outcome.

Learn more about how Inclusive and Equitable Access programs improve affordability, convenience, and student outcomes.