Faculty Best Practices for Textbook Affordability
Over the past several years, textbook affordability has become an increasingly visible issue among UC students and parents, who find the prices of textbooks unexpected and staggering. Textbook costs are now rising at almost four times the rate of inflation, and according to the National Association of College Stores, can exceed $500 for a single quarter or semester. For community college students, textbook expenses can comprise 40 percent of their total educational costs.
The issue has captured the attention of state and federal legislators. A 2005 U.S. Government Accountability Office study showed that the “extras” often included with textbooks—such as CD-ROMs and instructional supplements—contribute significantly to price increases. In 2008, a California Bureau of State Audits (BSA) study on rising textbook prices examined best practices and issued a number of recommendations, including some directly aimed at UC. Despite legislative attempts to lower textbook costs, however, prices have not fallen, and supplemental materials have not decreased.
In recent years, a number of strategies have emerged to combat the problem: 1) implementation of faculty “best practices”; 2) the use of e-books and on-line textbooks; and 3) state legislation intended to increase transparency around pricing, supplemental materials bundling, and content differences between current and past editions (see link).
Faculty Best Practices
In response to the BSA audit, UC’s Interim Provost Larry Pitts asked the Executive Vice Chancellors to document best practices at their campuses. Preliminary responses reveal that UC faculty already are doing much to address the problem, and campus Academic Senates are leading the way. In 2004, the UC Santa Barbara Senate passed a “Resolution in Support of Affordable Textbooks.” Soon after, the UC Riverside Senate funded a faculty grant to produce a multi-media statistics text that was provided free to students on-line. More recently, UCLA’s Senate division chair asked faculty to commit to using the same book for two or more quarters, in a program sponsored by the campus.
UC faculty have suggested additional best practices at recent Academic Senate committee meetings. These include:
- Placing complimentary textbook copies faculty receive “on reserve” at campus libraries
- Using books already in the public domain
- Creating and using low-cost readers
- Publishing articles in open source journals, which could be assigned in courses
- Collaborating with colleagues on the choice of textbooks for related courses so that students can re-sell them to students taking similar courses.
- Creating on-line syllabi with links to on-line reading materials, whether sourced from the public internet or on protected local sites.
- Giving students a reading list for older editions of a textbook so that students can buy those editions used at a lower cost.
- Using UCSB’s open-access English Broadside Ballad Archive, a major non-textbook resource on the Renaissance
- Using databases of early texts for pre-1900 material in English (e.g. Early English Books Online)
Ultimately, success will require the cooperation of all constituency groups, including campus bookstores, which have implemented a number of best practices designed to lower textbook costs: guaranteed buy-back, price match, and textbook rental/exchange programs. At all campuses, either the bookstore or Administration (or both), regularly communicates with faculty on the importance of ordering textbooks in a timely manner. UCLA offers a bookstore discount for timely orders. Some campuses (UCB, UCD, UCM, UCSB, UCSC, and UCSD) encourage faculty to consider unbundled textbook packages. Others (UCB, UCD, UCLA, UCM, UCR, and UCSC) communicate with faculty about legislation and textbook affordability issues. UCB and UCLA have formed task forces on textbook affordability, and the UCLA Undergraduate Students’ Association recently developed a new needs-based textbook scholarship.
On-line and electronic textbooks also promise to reduce textbook costs, as electronic textbooks, or “ebooks,” are generally half the price of printed textbooks. Governor Schwarzenegger recently advocated that more of the State’s 6 million public school students have access to on-line learning materials as a way to lower costs. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 12, 2009), Northwest Missouri State University (NWMSU) is implementing ebooks for all of its courses using the Sony Reader, with mixed results. NWMSU envisioned its book program as a way to cut its textbook rental program’s annual $800,000 pricetag. But students struggled with the technology, and ebooks are unsuitable for certain academic subjects. But the ebook reader technology is still maturing, and eventually may be a viable alternative.
On-line textbooks may be more promising as an immediate way to reduce textbook prices. The Community College Open Textbook Project (CCOTP) is gathering data on California Community College (CCC) textbook affordability to establish standards for open textbooks and to encourage adoption by CCC faculty. CCOTP published its first open textbook in partnership with Rice University’s Connexions. It has partnered with start-up publisher FlatWorld Knowledge to bring 11 original open textbook titles into circulation beginning in April 2009, with 40 more in the pipeline, and it recruited 83 CCCs to the project. Although the CCOTP is not yet integrated with UC’s course articulation process, it holds great potential, as 22 courses in the CCC transfer curriculum comprise 50% of the freshman and sophomore coursework at UC. Beginning with these 22 courses, UC could 1) identify/recommend works for adaptation to digital open textbook form; 2) establish peer review standards for interactive, digital open textbooks; and 3) streamline the articulation process to foster open textbook publication and adoption.
Textbook affordability continues to gain traction in the California legislature and with the public. UC faculty can, and are, doing a lot by working with campus administrations and bookstores to develop best practices like buy-back and book rental programs, timely submission of textbook orders, and textbook unbundling.. Although the problem cannot be addressed solely by faculty, the Senate is committed to continued communication and implementation of additional best practices that will help to lower textbook prices. The Senate invites faculty to assist in this effort by submitting ideas for best practices to their local Senate divisions by December 2009.