by Monica Metz-Wiseman (Director, Academic Resources, University of South Florida Libraries, University of South Florida, LIB122, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL 33620; Phone: 813-974-9854; Fax: 813-974-2296) lib.usf.edu
Over the past six years, the University of South Florida (USF) Libraries have been working to address the issue of textbook affordability for USF students and faculty. As textbook and course material costs continue to rise exponentially, students struggle to afford these materials. Students are making tough choices between textbooks and essentials such as food and prescription medicine. The rising cost of textbooks is also contributing to student debt in the U.S., debt that has now reached record levels. USF also has the distinction of having a high percentage of students (42%) with need-based Pell Grants. With heightened attention placed on the issue by the Florida legislature, USF administration is also taking notice of this issue. At USF, our work with textbook affordability is more highly valued now than ever. Back in November of 2014, USF reported in The Charleston Advisor on the year-long Internet2/EDUCAUSE E-Textbook Pilots. These three semester-long pilots laid out a road map for USF based on surveys of students and faculty that analyzed whether etextbooks could equal or surpass the value of print textbooks within the context of teaching and learning. That answer was yes, but price point was key to that acceptance. Participation in the pilots also resulted in direct savings of over $553,000 for students. But what is USF doing now to help support students and faculty with the affordability of course materials, and where is this work headed?
The Textbook Affordability Project (TAP) at USF is the umbrella for any initiative that supports textbook affordability on behalf of our students. As our primary means of communication, we have a website (http://tap.usf.edu) that provides information on services, news, tools, and collections. Social media, in-person outreach at campus events, multi-media presentations, bookmarks, and brochures all serve to spread the word on how we are trying to help our students. Direct access to affordable materials comes by way of four initiatives. These initiatives are: Online Course Reserve, Print Textbooks on Reserve program, Ebooks in the Classroom, and our Open Textbook Initiative.
Based on a survey of our faculty that resulted in a response of 424 out of 2,090 faculty, we learned that faculty place a high value on a robust online course reserve system that integrates with the course management system. To that end, we acquired ARES to ensure a user-friendly online course reserve environment, and we have continued to fund it over the past four years. The result? More USF faculty are using Online Course Reserve, and more content is being added than ever before. The USF Libraries also funded three years of the Copyright Clearance Center Academic License to help to ensure copyright compliance. The aim of this work is to provide scaffolding for faculty that would allow them to shed textbook requirements in favor of course readings on Online Course Reserve.
The aim of the Print Textbooks on Reserve program is to acquire at least two textbooks for courses with a combined enrollment of over 100 students. These textbooks can be loaned for three hours. With funding from the University to acquire textbooks, we are now supporting a combined enrollment of 59,000 students in over 2,300 course sections with access to more than 1,100 textbooks. These textbooks were used more than 35,000 times in the past year. Supplemented by donations from publishers and faculty, the current value of this collection is over $140,000 with an investment of $30,000.
Ebooks in the Classroom is another cost-savings program for our students. Faculty submit requests to the USF Libraries to acquire ebooks adopted either as recommended or required reading for courses. Eligible courses can be at the undergraduate or graduate level. A great deal of attention is paid to acquiring ebooks with the least restrictive digital rights. To date, the USF Libraries have saved students over $1.4 million in textbook costs by making the ebooks that serve as textbooks accessible online at no cost to the students.
Within the past year, the USF Libraries and USF Innovative Education have partnered to fully fund and publish our first open access textbook. Working with a faculty member, Jenifer Schneider from the College of Education, The Inside, Outside, and Upside Downs of Children’s Literature: From Poets and Pop-ups to Princesses and Porridge was published in the spring of 2016. While Jenifer was certainly mindful of saving students’ money, she also wanted to create something innovative and interactive. Making an imaginative use of multi-media to help the reader understand this content, there are twelve videos that accompany each chapter. As Jenifer teaches large sections of a popular Children’s Literature course, the potential savings over the span of three semesters will be $180,000 for USF students. Published under a Creative Commons license, this textbook is now open to the world. The USF Libraries also host on our institutional repository, Scholar Commons, twelve open textbooks authored by USF faculty. The textbook Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices by Anol Bhattacherjee it the most downloaded publication on Scholar Commons with 336,806 downloads to date. We are now in the midst of creating our second fully funded open textbook which focuses on probability and statistics, with faculty member Kingsley Reeves from the College of Engineering. He is participating in this program as he too wants to create an interactive textbook with multi-media that helps not only students at USF understand the concepts of probability and statistics, but also students around the world.
Where are we headed next in our attempt to help our students better afford classroom materials? We are exploring the development of programs similar to Affordable Georgia and Temple University’s Alternate Textbook Project where financial incentives are awarded to faculty who move to an open access textbook or adopt library content in lieu of a commercially published textbook. We will join the Open Textbook Network through the University of Minnesota and develop a database of ebooks similar to the one created at UNC Charlotte for possible adoption. Finally, we are currently analyzing how best to negotiate with commercial textbook publishers for etextbooks on our campuses. Our commitment to textbook affordability for students at USF not only continues but has intensified to match the growing importance of this issue to students, faculty, administrators, and now Florida lawmakers.