Affordable Course Materials Initiative

Two years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported a survey finding that 7 out of 10 college students had skipped buying a textbook because of cost. Since then, the problem has been well-publicized in popular and academic media and discussed by policy-makers. U.S. News & World Report wrote that "the average college student spends up to $1,200 per year on textbooks, and … costs have grown by 82 percent in just a decade." Their accompanying graph shows an alarming increase compared to the CPI.

A graph showing an increase compared to the CPI

At Boston College, the issue has been raised frequently by the UGBC and by the Montserrat Coalition. Initial data indicates that one-third of Montserrat students do not buy any textbooks, while another third buy only some. A small initial sampling of BC students across disciplines found the semester's actual costs for textbooks may be over $1000. The College Board estimates averages of $1200 for books and supplies. This is more than double the amount that can be allotted from financial aid.

Last Fall, a small working group* of librarians, administrators and faculty began meeting to address the issue. We proposed an Affordable Course Materials Initiative to support faculty who revise their curriculum to include high-quality materials that can be accessed at minimal cost to students. These materials may be newly created teaching materials, publicly accessible materials and subscribed resources (from the Boston College Libraries) or any combination of the three.

The proposal was sent to the University Librarian and the Provost in January and was quickly funded. Announcement of the initiative and accompanying grant support was sent to all Boston College deans and department chairs in February.

Interested faculty attended two workshops in April. The workshops highlighted support to grant participants in the areas of curriculum resource location, course development and organization, and copyright and licensing issues. Grant applications were due by May 8 and awards should be made by May 20.

Applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Savings per student over the previous course materials and total projected savings based on enrollment
  • Preference for courses to be implemented by Fall semester, 2016
  • Creation of new publically accessible materials strengthens the application.
  • Applicants are asked to describe expected outcomes from the new curriculum, expected challenges of creating/assembling low cost materials, sustainability of the resulting curriculum, and the planned method of assessing the success of the resulting curricular materials.

Each faculty member who receives a grant will have support from subject specialist librarians to find appropriate resources. Center for Teaching Excellence staff will be available for Canvas and other technology consultations and curriculum design support. Any resulting new open access products may be hosted and made publically accessible in eScholarship@BC, the institutional repository administered by the Libraries.

free the textbooks Image by: opensource.com

The Affordable Course Materials Initiative guide includes a description of the grant process and a selected listing of sources of freely available course materials. In addition, any faculty member interested in increasing the proportion of free or low-cost materials in their curriculum can contact their subject specialist librarian for help in identifying and locating the right publications.

* The Affordable Course Materials working group:
Kit Baum, Margaret Cohen, Judith Gordon, Adaline Mirabal-Camacho, Jane Morris, Clare O'Connor and John Rakestraw

Jane Morris
Head Librarian,
Scholarly Communications and Research