Monday, September 30, 2013

Controlling Textbook Costs at RSC

Monica Castellano, RSC instructional designer
Increases in the price of text books and course materials have outpaced the rising cost of tuition by as much as seven percent in the past five years.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price index, on average, tuition has gone up by 24% since 2008 while books and supplies have experienced a 31% increase.

 In its effort to provide accessible and affordable education, Rio Salado College has implemented a variety of solutions aimed at lowering the costs of course materials.

One way Rio Salado reduces costs is by using royalty-free content. For example, literature that was created prior to 1923 is in the public domain and no longer subject to copyright. Using text selections from the public domain and a college-provided database subscription, course designers at Rio Salado were able to create a textbook for Early American Literature (ENH241) that is completely cost-free.

Other courses are designed using open educational resources (OER) made available through creative commons licensing. OER materials like the ones used in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) allow students to access digital materials online, eliminating the need for a textbook altogether.

Using the same book for multiple courses is another Rio Salado practice that can save students money. Students taking progressive levels of Calculus will use the same book for MAT 221, 231, and 241. Additionally, the textbook used in these three classes is custom built in partnership with Pearson PLC as a part of the Rio Salado College Textbook Savings Program. Not only do students save on the overall cost of the book, but they are able to re-use the same book across multiple classes.

“Rio Salado faculty and administration are sensitive to the costs for students,” said RSC Instructional Designer Monica Castellano. “One important way we have addressed that is to actively pursue a custom Pearson text whenever possible, so that students in those classes get the savings benefit. In fact, there is an emphasis on trying to use textbooks that are part of the textbook savings programs for our highest enrollment courses.”

Keeping costs low is important, and the college does what it can to address the issue without sacrificing the quality of education.

“Decisions regarding required text and course materials are made by residential faculty before course design begins. Materials are chosen based on what will best address the knowledge and skills being taught by the class,” Castellano said. “Having said that, if a publisher bundles software and peripheral activities with the text, our faculty does consider the overall cost savings to students versus something like a subscription based resource.”

It’s also important to note the impact of the college’s one course many sections model in reducing costs for students.

“Where other colleges might only have a few instructors build their courses to utilize free or low-cost materials, at Rio Salado the decision is scalable to every student,” Castellano said. “Since there is only one set of materials used in all of the sections for given course, management for faculty services and the bookstore is also simplified.

In addition to institutional efforts to lower the price of course materials, students can also take steps to lower their own costs. Used books can be purchased for a fraction of the retail price, and the Rio Salado bookstore offers both rental and sell-back options for students who don’t want to keep their books when their class is over.