Academic Solutions · Article

Everything You Need to Know About Equitable and Inclusive Access

A student speaking before so many students sitting in a classroom
February 24, 2022

Terminology evolves and spreads rapidly in every industry, and it’s important to pause and break down what buzzwords mean – especially when they have a vital role to play in student success.

You may be asking: What is equitable access? How does it differ from inclusive access? Why are they important to me, my students and my institution?

Equitable access and inclusive access are concepts that can apply across different industries and contexts. For higher education and course materials, the terms refer to two approaches that make it easier for students to get the course materials they need to be successful.


In both equitable access programs and inclusive access programs, course material costs are bundled as part of tuition or applied as course charges, and students receive their materials by the first day of class. This creates cost savings for students and ensures that they are prepared with the right resources at the right time.

The primary difference between the two is that an equitable access program is implemented across the entire institution: All students receive all required materials, in physical or digital formats, for all courses. An inclusive access program is implemented by course, providing digital course materials to students in participating courses.

COURSESParticipating coursesAll Courses
STUDENTSStudents in participating coursesAll Students
FORMATDigital OnlyDigital and/or Print*
*Select equitable access programs may be limited to digital format



  • Access: Materials provided before the first day of class
  • Convenience: Streamlined access to course materials
  • Affordability: Program volume creates significant student savings


  • Ease: Easier adoption process requires less time and research to ensure affordability
  • Assurance: Students will be prepared with the correct course materials to support student success
  • Efficiency: Instruction can begin on day one


  • Differentiation: Meaningful, in demand initiative enhances the student experience, improves affordability and drives successful outcomes
  • Continuity: Seamless support for in-person and online instruction improves student recruitment and retention
  • Value: Revenue stays on campus while delivering student savings


Each institution has a different set of priorities to balance and unique factors that determine its capacity to implement new programs. With both inclusive and equitable access options to choose from, you can move forward at your own pace.


An inclusive access program can be implemented at the course, department or program level, depending on the needs of your faculty and institution.

Things to keep in mind: Only students in participating courses benefit from the program, so you need to ensure students understand how to get their materials through the traditional method as well as the inclusive access program. Additionally, faculty participating in the program must adopt digital course materials, though students may have the option to pay an additional fee for a print version.


An equitable access program is implemented for ALL courses in ALL departments and programs at the same time. This approach allows you to focus on one course material delivery method and provides a uniform experience for all students and faculty.

Things to keep in mind: Not all equitable access models are created equal. In some cases, providers may restrict formats to digital course materials. Others may designate inflexible or standard pricing models. As you will be implementing your program across the institution, selecting the right partner is vital to support a smooth and seamless transition. Choose a partner that will support your campus objectives, improve affordability, support faculty, and educate students, faculty and administrators about the program, as well as market it to prospective students, parents and other influential audiences.


First Day® (inclusive access) and First Day® Complete (equitable access) from Barnes & Noble College are already delivering results at 191 colleges and universities across the nation.

These programs offer the simplified and highly personalized concierge service unique to BNC and save students an average of 35-50% each term.


  • 82% of students found it convenient to have their course materials bundled and delivered to them through this program
  • 71% of students felt that this program has provided them with more affordable course materials
  • 73% of students felt better prepared for the academic term
  • 81% of students are likely to participate in this program in the future

In addition, there are no restrictions to the course materials faculty select for their courses. Faculty have the academic freedom to select materials that are best suited for their teaching, regardless of publisher or format.

Contact us today or download the program overview to learn more about your institution can drive successful student outcomes with inclusive and equitable access solutions.

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