For many college students, taking a class where the textbook is free would be a dream come true.
After tuition and room and board, textbooks are the next biggest cost for college students.
Between 2002 and 2013, the price of college textbooks rose 82 percent — nearly three times the rate of inflation, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.
In light of this, professors at Fresno State are finding ways to make textbooks and other course materials more affordable through the Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) Program.
As part of the California State University system’s AL$ effort, campus programs are funded by grants from the Chancellor’s Office and Assembly Bill 7989.
Fresno States’s Goal: 30% Student Savings
The goal of AL$ at Fresno State is to have faculty reduce costs for course materials by at least 30 percent, said Dusty Guthier, the course materials manager for Kennel Bookstore.
Guthier said some professors are going all out by making course materials entirely free.
“I think it is great that we are able to lower our costs for our students,” Dusty said. “The cost of textbooks and course materials, in general, are too high and so it is not only our job as a bookstore, but as a campus to find ways to get the students the materials they need at the lowest cost possible.”
A Student’s Perspective
Fresno State Student Marissa Arzola said her nutrition class last year enabled her to do all of her assignments on her computer, saving her over $100.
“It was good,” Arzola said. “I like actually having all of the stuff online, it made the course easier.”
Arzola said it also made her work harder to get her assignments done.
“With everything being online, my professor was able to check how long and what time we got [assignments] done by so that pushed me to get it done on time,” Arzola said.
Saved Fresno State Students $1 million Over Five Years
Since the inception of AL$ in 2010, the estimated student savings on textbooks throughout the CSU has been over $230 million.
Guthier said the program has helped save Fresno State students at least $1 million over the last five years.
One of the major ways students save money on textbooks, Guthier said, is buying used textbooks, digital textbooks, and renting textbooks.
“We have a very strong rental program in store, which allows students to rent the book at a much lower cost than purchasing it,” Guthier said, adding there are around 1,200 rentable books in the Kennel Bookstore.
Fresno City College Students Save Money, Too
Don Lopez, the vice president of instruction at Fresno City College, said the college has been participating in cost-saving measures for students most notably with Open Educational Resources. OERs are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.
“Community college students typically have greater challenges around finances so any cost savings that we can provide is going to be a benefit to them,” Lopez said, adding that the OER program is “one of a series of things that we are doing to help our students be successful.”
Immediate Access Program Slated To Save Students $500,000
Dusty said Fresno State is also offering the Immediate Access Program this fall. The program is a new textbook model in collaboration with top publishers that converts books into digital content.
Guthier said the new initiative will include nearly 80 courses, about 8,000 students, and will have a cost savings of about $500,000 for the fall semester.
Professor Says It’s Been a Smooth Transition
Nicole Smith, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at Fresno State, said AL$ has helped students.
Smith said she’s been offering an electronic version of her textbooks to students ——about half the cost of hard copies. She said the transition to electronic books has been smooth.
“Just from observation, they are definitely doing well with it,” Smith said. “They are having conversations and engaging better in class, which really means more to me than a test score.”
Bryan Berrett said the AL$ program is invaluable for students.
“In order to provide the most optimal opportunity for student success, we want to be sure that students have access to their course materials so that they can be successful,” said Berrett, the director for the Center for Faculty Excellence at Fresno State.
When he was a professor of deaf studies at Fresno State, Berrett said he helped students save hundreds of thousands of dollars on textbooks through the school’s DISCOVERe program. DISCOVERe is a mobile technology learning program where faculty incorporate technology into their teaching pedagogy.
“Part of the ask for faculty when they are redesigning their courses is that they reduce the cost of their course materials,” Berrett said, adding that over 330 faculty members are trained in the program.
Teaching Through Digital Technology Is The Future
Guthier said he encourages more professors at Fresno State and other colleges to utilize newer, more affordable ways of teaching their material.
“Classes are definitely becoming more and more digital-oriented,” Dusty said. “That is the society that we live in today.”