In a time of rising tuition and fees, the public has come to question the value of a college degree. While some institutions have elected to freeze tuition to appeal to prospective students and curb attrition, many universities continue the trend of cost increases. That leaves faculty and administration with the task of creating innovative solutions.
The University of California Berkeley projects its students will pay an average of $1,226 on books and supplies in the upcoming school year, and the University of Cincinnati advises its students to allocate $1,570 for course materials for the 2013-14 academic year. While some disciplines will require students to spend that much to keep up with rigorous, hands-on coursework, professors do their best to mitigate materials costs by creating or selecting cheaper options for their cash-strapped students.
Professor M. Ryan Haley of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh used a $295,000 grant to develop a free e-book for his students, with the assistance of three fellow economics professors. “We calculated by the spring of 2013 the amount of savings to students from not having to buy a textbook will have exceeded the grant award,” Haley said. His innovative approach materialized because of his dissatisfaction with publishing industry practices: “The introductory concepts haven’t changed in 200 years,” Haley said. “The publishing houses want to put out new editions every three years, but nothing has changed.”
According to the National Association of Colleges, in 2012 a new textbook cost $68 and a used textbook cost $53, on average. The California State University set up its Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative in 2010 to severely undercut these prices. They provide free and low-cost course materials for professors to use, and recognize faculty who cut costs on their students’ behalf. Also, Tidewater Community College in Virginia looks forward to launching a pilot of its “textbook-free” business administration degree program this fall with the help of open educational resources.
Faculty members who lack the resources to create their own texts or take advantage of university initiatives have options, as well. Electing to use an older edition text can save students a lot of money, especially if students conduct online searches to find books for low prices.
Learning management systems (LMS) also allow instructors to help their students. Resources like XanEdu allow for the creation of course packs using select material from textbooks in order to reduce the overall cost of the resource. A less spoken of practice involves the distribution of copyrighted material to students through LMS without permission from publishers. While some professors feel justified under the fair use doctrine to do this, the practice opens professors and their home institutions to potential lawsuits.
As instructors to hundreds if not thousands of students every year, professors are acutely attuned to the mounting costs of textbooks and course materials. While students and their families wait for assistance in the form of more affordable higher education, they should know that increasingly, faculty and school administrators are on their side.