SPARC Offers Myths as FACTS

by Kelly L. Denson

In searching for the truth, one should deeply question organizations that require resorting to falsehoods to create their narrative. The new inclusive access misinformation site, developed by SPARC and their backers, weaponizes myths surrounding inclusive access to confuse consumers trying to make the best choice for their education.

For the past ten years, publishers have forged ahead with a twin focus on quality and affordability, leading to a significant decrease in the cost of course materials. In addition, publishers have been able to provide students with innovative new products that increase accessibility, decrease expenses, and provide them with a broad spectrum of options to choose from. However, this new SPARC site uses myths to conceal the progress publishers have made, while pushing fake “facts” to create a false storyline surrounding inclusive access.

Through their website, SPARC pushes a series of fictions easily dispelled with real facts published by research groups Student Watch and Student Monitor, as well as by the College Board itself. First, SPARC claims the cost of college course materials has risen over the past twenty years. This is simply untrue. Recent surveys from two different groups, Student Watch and Student Monitor, found a 36% drop in the amount students spend on course materials over the past decade.

SPARC also makes the incorrect claim that Inclusive Access constrains faculty ability to choose course materials. In reality, Inclusive Access is extremely popular precisely because its flexibility encourages academic freedom for faculty: programs can be implemented on a department level, but they can also be provided on a course-by-course basis, or even by course section.

SPARC falsely asserts that Inclusive Access limits student choice, but students are always able to opt-out, and the truth is that there is a robust market for used books and rentals for students to choose from, as supported by data from Student Watch.

Kelly L. Denson is Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at the Association of American Publishers and a former teacher.

SPARC argues that American students should be forced into a one-size-fits all solution of taxpayer funded OER when it comes to course materials. There is no question that high quality, innovative and constantly updated course materials offered by American publishers are critical to education, and in the case of some of the most iconic and groundbreaking works available, admired around the world.

Despite SPARC’s rhetoric, it is clear to everyone in the education ecosystem that faculty and students need access to first rate, professional course materials and need the freedom to choose the materials that work best for them, both in terms of quality and affordability. Indeed, the Inclusive Access programs that SPARC attacks are an increasingly popular option because they deliver on both fronts.

SPARC’s website relies on the idea that students are paying more for their course materials, and Inclusive Access contributes to that, but the data shows this is simply untrue. The facts matter, and data published by the College Board, Student Monitor, and Student Watch, shows students are spending less than ever.

While we’re always open to honest debate, we find it disheartening that SPARC has chosen to resort to disinformation to make its point. SPARC should ask themselves why their arguments rely on faulty facts as a driving force. And we should all be wary of the intention behind sites that make such obvious attempts to mislead the public.