Textbook Alternative Program on pace to save Rowan students up to $6 million

Textbook Alternative Program on pace to save Rowan students up to $6 million


Rowan University’s Textbook Alternative Program (TAP), which began in 2019 with anticipated savings to students of $120,000, is on pace through 2023 to save as much as $6 million.

The program developed as an initiative of the campus Affordability Task Force, encouraging faculty to move from assigning traditional textbooks to free, online study materials, in a University-wide effort to save students money.

Affordability Task Force member Dr. Alison Novak said participation in TAP increased from a half dozen faculty members in 2019 to 33 this year.

“For faculty, the appeal is two-fold,” said Novak, an associate professor of Public Relations & Advertising in the Ric Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts. “On the one hand, there’s frustration over students not using assigned classroom materials. On the other, our faculty have a lot of compassion for students. While some books are necessary, their heart breaks for students who can’t afford them.”

Novak said the national average for new textbooks is $81 but for hard science and medical textbooks, which are harder to replace with free Open Education Resources (OERs), the cost can be several hundred dollars apiece.

Students spent, on average, about $1,500 on books and other course materials in 2019, a figure that has climbed since then, Novak said, so savings from TAP can be significant.

Participating faculty receive a $2,000 stipend to change course materials from textbooks to free OERs and some faculty in most of Rowan’s schools and colleges have done so, but the transition is easier for some classes than others, Novak said.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into selecting and contextualizing readings but, for example, English literature classes that we’re replacing anthologies for is easier. For engineering and hard sciences, it’s harder because the technologies and research into sciences changes often,” she said.

Novak noted that Rowan has made cutting costs for students a University priority, especially in light of studies that show that as many as 30 percent of American students face food insecurity due to a lack of resources at some point in their college careers.

Rowan, under President Ali Houshmand, has taken a variety of steps to address college costs and food insecurity including capping or limiting rises in tuition and providing resources such as the SHoP, a Glassboro campus outlet that distributes free food and goods to students, as well as free, seasonal produce from Houshmand’s West Campus farm.

Novak said the savings in class materials from popular courses like Computers in Society, College Composition I and Intro to Psychology reduces costs $250 or more per year.

For College Comp alone, she said, a Rowan libraries project to replace textbooks that all students had to buy has netted about $1 million in savings. That project involved the creation of a new website where, week by week, students click on a tab and bring up readings, links to articles, and more.

“We know that 10 percent of students say textbooks are out of their budgets,” Novak said. “The cost adds up very quickly if you have five classes.”