Textbook Affordability Initiative Saves Student Body more than $400,000

Some of the textbooks in the USF St. Petersburg Library's reserve collection.

Some of the textbooks in the USF St. Petersburg Library’s reserve collection.

(July 2, 2018) – As college costs from tuition to course materials rise, novel solutions are needed to make earning a college education accessible while reducing the burden of debt. A textbook affordability initiative launched just last year at USF St. Petersburg is already reaping benefits, as it is on track to save the student body nearly $420,000.

Spearheaded by staff at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, the initiative is using a combination of textbooks on reserve, e-textbooks and promoting affordable options to provide faculty with course materials that sustains academic rigor while lowering costs to students.

“We have had on our radar that costs of textbooks have been rising exponentially,” said Cathi Cardwell, Dean of the Library. “Libraries traditionally did not deal with textbooks – they build local collections and local content –so library budgets were never spent on these materials. However, with the sharp rise in prices, University libraries have realized they needed to help solve this problem.”

The initiative, which was begun at the USF System, led to the creation of a task force at USF St. Petersburg. Led by Dean Cardwell, the task force was made up of faculty and staff from the library, Online Learning and Instructional Technology Services (OLITS) team and the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL). The group put together a plan to approach textbook affordability from a variety of angles, including:

  • Expand the library’s textbooks in the reserve collection,
  • Generate awareness around availability of ebooks, and
  • Utilize workshops to educate all USFSP faculty on affordable options

Several years ago, the number of textbooks in the reserve collection where students could check out a book for three hours at a time rather than buy was just 20. The library now has 475.

They accomplished this through a $3,500 grant from Town & Gown that allowed the library to buy textbooks. Town & Gown is an organization that promotes understanding between USF St. Petersburg and the community. The USF System program for textbook affordability allowed the library to acquire even more. Some faculty donated extra copies they had and some students contributed their textbooks rather than sell them back once they completed a class.

As for ebooks, the USF Libraries have assembled a collection spanning a multitude of subjects that can be adopted by faculty throughout the USF System for their courses. By the Spring 2018 semester, 120 ebooks were in use at USF St. Petersburg.

Based on figures from the last three semesters, use of the reserve collection and ebooks saved students more than $241,000.

Next, the task force focused on engaging with faculty.

“Although faculty are aware of student concerns over textbook costs, many may not know of the various ways to reduce costs while still maintaining the quality of their course,” said Cardwell.

“The big challenge for faculty may be knowing about all the alternative resources that exist and whether those new materials can be incorporated into classes they teach,” said Karla Morris, Manager of Instructional Design Services with OLITS and member of the task force. “Luckily, they can take advantage of our librarians and instructional designers who can help find either free or more affordable materials as well as help review those materials to ensure they support their classes. Once faculty identify the new materials, they can work with our team at OLITS to figure out the best way to integrate them into the course.”

A series of six workshops were offered with the goal of reducing textbook costs by providing easy strategies and free resources. At these workshops, about 20 faculty representing all three Colleges took part in discussions on copyright and fair use to electronic textbooks to media licensed content – all with the purpose of helping them rethink their courses and content.

Nearly 75% of those who attended were able to find alternative ways to lower costs for students, which are to impact an estimated 3,656 students in the next academic year. In terms of dollars, the workshops are to net more than $178,000 worth of savings.

After the workshops, all faculty who participated said they are now more likely to recommend e‐resources to their colleagues and to ask a librarian for assistance with the textbook process.

“By moving to journal articles and web pages, my students will learn about how knowledge is shared among scholars and how to use the resources readily available to them as critical citizens,” said Deanna Michael, Associate Professor of Education. “I think this lesson is crucial to a university education. They save money and learn to be critical thinkers on a daily basis. Everybody wins!”

“I will have more control over the course material, rather than tailoring the course to match what is in the book. Students will benefit from a course designed specifically for USFSP students,” Larissa Kopytoff, Visiting Instructor of History.

Based on the success of the initial year and pilot workshops, the textbook affordability initiative task force is now implementing what worked campus wide and seeking new ways that lead to even more savings for the student body. Additional marketing is planned to ensure all faculty and students know about the reserve collection. A new series of workshops for reducing textbook costs will be offered and will target courses that have high enrollment or are for general education. And textbook affordability information will be incorporated into new faculty orientations.

“We had no idea what sort of impact we would have when we began. It’s been incredible,” said Cardwell. “Now we will continue this momentum into the coming academic year.”