By Samantha Carmona and Daniel Duque, Nov. 13, 2023
Education leaders from California’s public higher education institutions reunited Oct. 26 in a panel to discuss potential plans and solutions that seek to lower textbook prices and help university students gain easier access to course materials.
Leaders and advocates from California Community Colleges and the California State University exchanged their obstacles and achievements in an EdSource hosted panel named “Free college textbooks: Dream or reality?” The panel revealed that the average student in the 2022-23 school year spent up to $630 on textbooks alone. Speakers expressed their desire to lower, if not abolish, expenses that students need to spare for course materials.
Speakers included professional and student journalists from EdSource, advocates for accessible education and members of the California State University and California Community Colleges Chancellors’ offices.
The panel also covered topics such as the impact textbook costs have on students, potential solutions and open source texts. Allocation of funds toward student material and coursework was also discussed, such as the California Community College’s $5 million dollar pilot program for a zero-cost textbook pathway.
According to a national study conducted by the Public Interest Research Group, 65% of students have skipped out on buying textbooks because of expenses. Of these students, 90% reported they have significant concerns for their grades by not purchasing textbooks, but still decided to go through without a purchase.
Access to textbooks has been linked to academic success, as textbooks now are often connected to online homework, readings and quizzes through their digital platforms. Thus, students losing access to textbooks could lead to a domino effect of missing assignments.
Bronco Bookstore Director Clint Aase and Senior Associate Director Suzanne Donnelly explained the connection between course materials and academic success.
“If students don’t have access to (the course material), they simply cannot pass the classes in a lot of cases, where quizzes and homework might be done through the access code,” said Aase. “That’s a waste of your time and your money to enroll in a class, because if you don’t have a required tool, you can’t succeed.”
Open Education Resources are newer methods for providing alternative access to textbooks and other course materials. Donnelly explained they are created under a Creative Commons license, which gives them more freedom to be used and adapted by professors compared to the common published textbook.
These OERs, which are not limited by copyright or purchases, are often created and shared through collaborative efforts among universities and professors.
The Bronco Bookstore is supportive of distributing free or cheaper materials for students, according to Donnelly. Lowering the prices of textbook deliveries will lead to lower costs for the Bookstore, allowing them to price textbooks more affordably. As the Bronco Bookstore is self sufficent, it needs to cover its own labor and freight costs, making digital materials like OERs beneficial to the Bookstore.
However, one of the biggest obstacles to easier textbook accessibility is getting professors to change their ways, according to Donnelly. OERs are still in the minority when it comes to course materials at CPP.
“It’s something where a lot of faculty are used to teaching with the same book they’ve used forever, they’re really comfortable with it,” said Donnelly. “It’s kind of hard for them to adjust how they teach and get used to a whole new set of materials, but more and more faculty are starting to take the time to do that.”
The Affordable Learning Initiatives committee is another way professors and faculty on the Cal Poly Pomona campus are encouraged to explore alternative methods of coursework and teaching. Grants and stipends are offered to staff to develop or adopt different materials that grant easier access to students.
Last spring the Bronco Bookstore updated its Instant Access program to Instant Access Complete which launched this fall. It offers students digital copies of all required texts for a single transaction of $250. It is the latest program introduced by the Bronco Bookstore to encourage students to gain easier access to the course content they need.
“Even though we’ve taken what the average predicted cost for most students and reduced it, $250 is still significant,” said Donnelly. “There’s still going to be some students, depending on the major they’re in and on their academic career, where $250 is incredibly high.”
However, Donnelly explained that transparency toward students is important when it comes to textbooks and participation in Instant Access Complete.
“Our mission here in the bookstore is not to make as much money as possible, it’s not to sell as much as possible, our mission is an academic mission,” said Aase.
The future of lower textbook prices and easier accessibility is still up to change, according to Aase and Donnelly. But efforts continue from advocates outside and inside the education system to help students achieve this goal.