Reducing the Cost of College Course Materials

Reducing the Cost of College Course Materials

This blog is based on research featured in the Simba Information reports “State of College Course Materials 2016-2017” and “College Course Materials Trends and Outlook 2018-2020.

Higher education publishers and distributors are ramping up their efforts to change the way college students acquire and access course materials, increasingly with the support of institutions and faculty.

Among the most recent initiatives, the University of Missouri System and McGraw-Hill Education in March forged a new five-year agreement aimed at lowering the cost of course materials. Under the agreement, McGraw-Hill Education is cutting the cost of its etextbooks by 38% to meet the university system’s definition of low cost. MHR is offering its entire higher education ebook catalog through the university system’s AutoAccess program. Students will be able to access purchased content for five years.

Launched in 2014, the AutoAccess program has expanded to 300 courses, 700 sections and 40,000 students across the UM System’s four campuses. To date, students have saved approximately $9.7 million.

Also in March, McGraw-Hill Education formed an agreement with the Unizin consortium of 25 universities to provide member institutions with its inclusive-access model so that students can access digital course materials on the first day of class. Content will be available either on MHE’s Connect digital platform or Unizin’s Engage ebook platform.

In another new partnership, John Wiley & Sons Wiley (Hoboken, NJ) in March teamed up with OhioLINK, a consortium of 91 Ohio college and university libraries, to offer inclusive access to digital course materials at savings of at least 40%.

Institutional Change

The MHE and Wiley deals are among the most recent in the almost exploding initiatives by publishers to provide course materials that result in sell-through for publishers and ensured access for students. But institutions also are taking up the charge and instituting new approaches in course materials to reduce costs.

For instance, California University of Pennsylvania this spring semester began a series of initiatives aimed at cutting costs for students. Among them are:

  • Updating the university’s textbook-ordering software to allow faculty to choose the cheapest option;
  • Piloting open educational resources in all Psychology 100 classers;
  • Allowing students with financial aid to use excess funds immediately to purchase textbooks rather than waiting for a refund;
  • Faculty of upper-level courses are placing textbook copies on reserve in the library; and
  • The university established an emergency fund to help students pay for textbooks.

In California, the state university system already has an affordable learning solutions program, and CSU-Channel Islands set up its own openCI, under which more than 50 faculty have redesigned their courses with no- or low-cost materials, saving students nearly $500,000 in the past two years

CSUCI's Communication and Early Childhood Studies programs are going further by offering a pathway through their major that requires no textbook purchases at all, replacing with OER, and other often free materials such as library resources, government reports and Kahn Academy resources.