textbook challenge

How one school beat the textbook dilemma

With more and more students opting not to purchase textbooks for class, Illinois College had to find a solution

In the face of mounting textbook costs that forced many students to attend classes without critical course
reading material, one college adopted a new model to ensure students were getting the maximum benefit out of their classes.

Illinois College officials knew that too many students came to class without purchasing the required course textbooks. Sometimes, as many as 50 percent of students did not have a textbook for class.

In some cases, students came from low-income families and did not have enough money to purchase textbooks after paying tuition fees. In others, courses required multiple textbooks, and students were only able to purchase one of the required texts.

For a number of years, faculty raised the concern that not all students could purchase course textbooks. The college started a fund to help students buy textbooks, but it wasn’t enough to meet the needs of all students, said Provost and Dean Liz Tobin.

“Our faculty were very concerned about this,” she said. “If students don’t have the books, they don’t do the readings. It also changes teaching. If you have 20 students in a class and seven don’t have the book, the professor changes his or her teaching method. The professor will spend more time trying to help students understand what was in the material instead of trying other innovative instructional methods. The teaching they do is much less engaged and much less student- centered, and we know from research that students learn less.”

The textbook industry’s need to thrive also contributed to the challenge.

“Not only are books expensive, but the book industry is being significantly pressed to survive, and one of the ways they’re surviving is by increasing the cost of books, and especially of textbooks,” Tobin said. “I have sympathy for the book industry, but the results are not so great for our students.”

Next page: A solution to the textbook challenge

Laura Ascione