Textbook Alternative Program to save students nearly $120K in first year

Textbook Alternative Program to save students nearly $120K in first year


For generations, students have grumbled about the ever-rising cost of textbooks, and with good reason. Today, textbooks for undergraduate classes can cost $100 or more and up to $200, sometimes more, for graduate and professional school courses.

A Rowan University pilot program starting this spring is aimed at eliminating the cost of texts for some classes by substituting free, online materials for pricey, paper-bound books.

Five Rowan faculty members enrolled as pioneers in the Textbook Alternative Program (TAP) and received University grants of $2,000 each to adapt lessons for classes from free materials online.

Sean Hendricks, director of Academic Transition and Support Programs, said savings from TAP, which grew out of work conducted by the campus Affordability Task Force, could approach $120,000 in the first year alone.

The taskforce developed as part of a four-pillar foundation for growing the University set out by President Ali Houshmand that is designed to keep Rowan affordable, to increase access to a four-year degree, to offer the highest quality education and to be an economic engine for the region.

“There are a lot of Open Education Resources, OERs, that anyone can access and our goal was to take advantage of them to save students money,” Hendricks said.

He said savings from courses taught by the five enrolled faculty members – Joel Capellan, Law & Justice Studies; James Grinias, Chemistry & Biochemistry; Ganesh Chandrasekaran, Computer Science; Bruce Plourde, English; and Olga Vilceanu, Public Relations & Advertising – is expected to exceed $116,000 in 2019.


More savings possible

Nationally, Hendricks said, students spend up to $1,500 per year on course materials but by utilizing free OERs they can greatly reduce those costs.

“Many of our incoming students are used to using online resources,” he said. “Our goal is to create a platform for faculty so they may use no cost or low cost materials in their classes.”

Capellan replaced a very costly textbook for a Criminal Justice Research course with free online materials.

“Research methods textbooks are very expensive, like $125 to $150,” he said, “and during a semester you barely teach 50 percent of the book.”

A variety of OERs he chose to replace the book with include online readings and instructional videos and he said there are virtually limitless peer reviewed journal articles online to challenge advanced students.

“For each topic I tried to find at least two online resources,” Capellan said. “For instance, for a lesson on regression analysis I’d get at least two chapters and one instructional video.”

Grinias, who will use OERs to teach Rowan’s Quantitative Analysis and Analytical Chemistry sections, said a standard text for his classes could exceed $300.

His choice for a textbook replacement: open source materials created by Depauw University researcher David Harvey.

“The content matched closely and the author is well-regarded in the field,” Grinias said.

With between 160 and 180 students taking these courses per year, Grinias estimates savings of more than $50,000.

“I remember when I was a student how stressful it was to have to buy books,” he said. “If I can make it easier on students I feel a responsibility as an instructor to do so.”


Book industry is onboard, and online

While book publishers and retailers have certainly not stopped printing and selling physical, printed textbooks, which often are irreplaceable resources that can be easier to read, mark up and reference that online materials, they, too, are producing online versions for popular courses and creating other programs to save students money.

John Styles, general manager of Barnes & Noble on Rowan Boulevard, the University’s official bookseller since it opened in 2011, said the store offers rental options and digital versions of texts for popular classes.

“In some cases the new books could cost up to $250 but students may often rent those same books for $50 to $80,” Styles said. “As editions change, we’re seeing more publishers get into that model.”

He said Barnes & Noble has created its own programs to lower costs as well including LoudCloud, which provides online content for more than 30 basic courses for a fraction of the potential cost of buying traditional texts.

Offered through Barnes & Noble Education, or BNED, the program claims to serve more than 5 million college students and faculty nationwide.

“More than 30 online courses are already developed,” Styles said. “Programming has started with basic courses but there are options, like two or three basic English Comp sections, Econ 1 & 2 and several Biology sections.”

He said Rowan faculty have not yet taken advantage of LoudCloud programming but that store representatives reach out to the University as new options come online.