As we were planning to open our doors and offer our first classes in 2009, we decided affordability and access would be a priority at Texas A&M University-San Antonio (TAMU-SA). As we have grown, this commitment to providing the highest-quality education at the lowest cost possible has not been lost. Today, our students pay the lowest tuition of any of the 15 four-year higher education institutions in San Antonio at around $4,000 per semester for in-state students taking 15 credit hours.
But tuition represents only one aspect of overall college costs. The costs of textbooks have risen–and continue to rise–exponentially over the past two decades, placing a heavy burden on students—a burden that often makes attaining a college education unattainable. We saw these costs putting unreasonable pressure on students early in our history at the College of Business causing students to not take classes, suffer academically when they did not purchase books, or drop out of school.
Something had to be Done
We decided to try an eTextbook program in the business school that would add a course fee onto students’ tuition for each of the courses using the digital course materials. The materials would be loaded into the learning management system (LMS) and students would have access on or before the first day of classes, regardless of whether they could afford it on their own because the costs of their eTextbooks are rolled into their financial aid package. (During the current school year, 81 percent of our undergraduate students are eligible for federal financial aid.)
Massive Cost Savings; More Degrees Earned
The cost savings to students with the program has been staggering. With the increased buying power of TAMU-SA and VitalSource, our eTextbook partner, we saved students in nearly 1,000 sections (business, education, and arts and sciences classes) more than $2.5 million dollars during the 2015-16 academic year compared to what they would have paid for print versions.
In the College of Business, that is an averaged realized savings of $1,374 per student. For many TAMU-SA students, this is the difference between completing a class or not, as well as passing or failing; degrees are attained because of these savings.
(Next page: Benefits of the eTextbook program for students beyond the cost factor)