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Thinking About Textbook Alternatives

Friday, February 12, 2016
Hillary Corbett
h.corbett [at]
(617) 373-2352

Nationwide, college students spend an average of $1300 per year on textbooks. On average, textbooks cost $85 each, although prices can go as high as $300 or more for a single text. A recently released study shows that 30% of surveyed students use their financial aid to pay for textbooks; in another survey, 65% of students nationwide reported they did not buy a required textbook due to cost, and almost all of them were concerned it would affect their grade. Since not paying tuition and fees isn’t an option, many students who are overwhelmed by the costs of college opt out of buying textbooks in an effort to make ends meet.


Faculty can help make college more affordable for students by considering alternatives to traditional high-cost textbooks. Assessing and adopting new instructional materials does take time, but the benefit to students can be extraordinary—not only does it help them manage expenses, but it can improve learning outcomes by making required readings more accessible to them. Following are some suggestions for how you can achieve this goal.


· Consider replacing your textbook with readings available through the Library

The Library has purchased or licensed a vast array of e-resources that provide access to high-quality readings—both journal articles and books. Search Scholar OneSearch, our article databases, or our e-book collections for readings that are comparable to what you’ve been using in subject matter and level. Your subject librarian can help you with this process. In some cases, you may find that the exact material you’ve already been using for your course is available to students through the Library’s e-resources at no cost to them. It’s very easy to provide links to our e-content through Blackboard; see our Guide to Finding and Creating Permalinks for instructions.


·Consider replacing your textbook with one or more Open Educational Resources (OERs)

There are many “open textbooks” available for adoption, with more being developed all the time. These are written by faculty experts, often peer-reviewed, and freely available online. (Sometimes a low-cost print version is also available.) The Boston Library Consortium, of which Northeastern University is a member, recently joined the Open Textbook Network, which supports a growing library of open textbooks where you can read or contribute Amazon-style reviews to aid in evaluation and adoption. Your subject librarian can help you identify OER alternatives for your textbooks in the Open Textbook Library and other online resources like MERLOT, which includes different types of learning objects as well as texts. Or, consider creating your own OER if what you’re looking for doesn’t yet exist.


·Find out if you can make your current textbook more affordable

If you want to stay with the textbook you’ve been using, at least for now, be sure to ask your textbook sales representative about the different versions available. Since 2010, the Higher Education Opportunity Act has required that publishers offer for sale an “unbundled” version of each textbook they produce (meaning they must sell just the textbook without any of the ancillary materials or digital access codes that come inside the shrinkwrap), as well as disclose pricing information for all versions. Ask how much the version you’ve adopted costs, if you don’t already know. Considering lower-cost options such as rental or e-book versions can also help students. And we always encourage you to place a copy of your textbook on reserve at the Library.


The Library is actively working to develop a formal program of support for Open Educational Resources on campus. Stay tuned for more information!

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