course materials costs can prevent students from accessing learning materials

6 ways to lower course materials costs for students

When students don't have their course materials, engagement can suffer, as can grades and outcomes

After decades of rising course materials costs, students are finally feeling some relief. Yet even though spending on course materials is trending downward, textbook affordability continues to weigh heavy on students’ minds.

Average student spending on course materials is the lowest the industry has seen in 24 years, according to NACS, yet some students are still not purchasing all of their required materials. Around one in four students decided not to acquire at least one course material, and NACS reported that students who skipped materials were also more likely to consider dropping out. When students don’t have their course materials, engagement can suffer, as can grades and outcomes.

Additionally, technology costs, including laptops, need to be factored into the equation. Technology is a core component of the education experience, whether students are learning in the classroom, online, or both. Having access to right tools and technologies means easier access to course materials, which can improve convenience, connection, and collaboration for students.

There are a number of steps schools can take to help reduce course materials and technology costs, easing the financial burden students face and improving the likelihood that more students will acquire more of their materials.

It’s important for schools to be proactive and educate themselves, their faculty, and their students on the course materials processes specific to their school. Raising awareness of textbook affordability and keeping everyone in the know is important, especially when it comes to alternative formats and delivery models, as well as fully understanding access terms, usage, and fees.    

  1. Give faculty full transparency into costs and comparable items so they can make informed decisions. An alarming 37% of post-secondary faculty don’t know the cost of course materials when they select items for their booklists. In a recent NACS webinar about student and faculty perspectives on course materials, about 50% of faculty agreed that textbook affordability is a priority to them and 38% have decided against a course material because of the increasing cost to students. Keeping faculty informed can go a long way to keeping costs down for students. Faculty also need to be made aware of all of their options, including print, digital and OER formats. Not all faculty know what OER is, but awareness about this free option is increasing. Also, when faculty select items that will be used again in a subsequent term, students often benefit by recouping more money for their items through buyback programs.
  1. Offer students a choice in format. When students can choose between new, used, rental, digital, subscription-based, Print-on-Demand and more, they can make the best choice for themselves. Students should be able to compare costs and weigh their own learning preferences, including prioritizing the immediate cost now versus the importance of the item’s longevity. For example, if a student knows they will be done with that item upon conclusion of the course, they can choose a less expensive, less permanent format. If a student wants ongoing access to the item beyond the duration of the course, purchasing that item outright might be the better choice even though it may cost more up front. If students are assigned a digital material, but feel like they learn more effectively from a hard copy, perhaps they want to also buy a print version. Student choice empowers students to make a purchasing decision that aligns with their own needs and goals.

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