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Cutting the Cost of College Textbooks

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Each year, full-time college undergraduate students can expect to pay, on average, $1,240 for books and supplies. Grad students, historically, pay even more. According to Trends in Higher Education, this applies to both public and private four-year institutions.

But at Cal State Fullerton all areas of campus are contributing to saving students money. Through faculty effort via OpenStax and Open Educational Resources (OER), as well as Titan Shops programs, the 2018 savings for students totalled more than $4 million.

How Faculty Are Saving Students Money

Shelli Wynants, director of online education and training, spends her days helping faculty access low- and no-cost textbooks and other resources. And she shares with fellow faculty how she adopted OER for her own child and adolescent studies research class — to student raves.

Michaela Keating, open resource librarian in the Pollak Library, is also lending a hand to faculty.  

“I’m so excited because we can be a dynamic duo to help grow open educational resources,” says Wynants of working with Keating. “We’ve already started brainstorming ideas together.”

In fact, Keating says her position was established to work with faculty to keep student costs for academic materials as low as possible and accessible. 

“I completely understand how much time it takes to find no- or low-cost materials,” she explains, adding that she was adamant about keeping reading materials at a minimal cost. “I’m ready and willing to do fundamental core research to help faculty find what they need and make it accessible to their students.”

What Programs are Available?

In 2010, the California State University launched its Affordable Learning Solutions initiative that integrates library resources, digital books, low-cost publisher materials and open educational resources in college courses.

Nearly 100 CSUF faculty have become Affordable Learning Solutions Ambassadors and are using either ALS options or OER — freely accessible, openly licensed books, documents and media — in their classrooms. 

And faculty are taking part in the OpenStax effort, which provides free textbooks developed and peer-reviewed by educators as a means to lower book costs.

Only 28% of CSUF students reported buying all of their course materials every semester. 82% did not get course materials because they were too expensive.

CSUF OER survey completed by 9,697 students during Fall 2016

In 2016-17, “we had 59 courses using affordable learning solutions to bring down the cost of textbooks,” Wynants says. “A year later, the number of classes grew — to 399.”

This fall, the numbers are set to grow even more, explains Wynants. As an example, every section of biological science 101 will be using OpenStax books.

Last spring, students paid $60 ebook/$120 physical copy for the BioSci 101 textbook. This fall, the OpenStax ebook version is free, hard copy only $27.

 “Efforts like this allow faculty to access and utilize parts of books and materials that work with their courses,” notes Wynant. 

What Else is Happening on Campus?

And in Titan Shops, students are getting additional savings, says director Kimberly Ball. 

A study conducted by the National Association of College Stores reported that 83 percent of students still purchase at least one textbook and 44 percent rent material for at least one course.

A long-standing program at Titan Shops allows students to rent books, with savings of up to 90 percent off the new print retail price. There is also a price-match guarantee for students who choose to purchase a new book. “Students simply show a screenshot of the book they are price matching, and we verify the retailer, in-stock status, and match the price if it qualifies.”

And one of the biggest growth areas in Titan Shops is the digital program, adds Ball. “Typical savings on digital course materials is up to 80 percent off the new print retail price.”

According to NACS, as of the spring 2019 term, 22 percent of students said they had downloaded free course materials, twice as many as in spring 2016.

If students have purchased books, “at the end of the semester, they can sell back any books they no longer want,” Ball adds. “If there has been a request for the book to be used in the upcoming semester, then we pay 50 percent of the purchase price.”

For more information about this effort to reduce the cost of educational materials, contact Shelli Wynants at; Michaela Keating at; or Kimberly Ball at