Courtesy of Aaron Lai/HIGHLANDER
Courtesy of Aaron Lai/HIGHLANDER

According to a University of California undergraduate experience survey, 80.7 percent of UC students have “bought fewer books, bought cheaper used books, read books on reserve” in comparison to past years. With the high costs of education, many students must make financial compromises which include purchasing food and necessities over textbooks. For this reason, UCR faculty and academic staff members, amongst other universities across the nation, are concerned that students’ learning experience as well as their academic performance, may be hindered.


As an attempt to remedy this problem, UCR faculty, librarians and information technologists have collaborated to create the Affordable Course Materials Initiative, which went into effect in fall of 2015. This project focuses on using alternative, open-sourced materials that are reliable and subject-specific. Professors are encouraged to share cost-effective materials with students, whether they are textbooks written by not-for-profit companies such as OpenStax, an organization that offers online textbooks in a variety of subjects, or scanned PDFs of different articles and textbooks uploaded to iLearn.


According to Ann Frankel, deputy university librarian and a member of the task force, this may be the first collaborative project between staff and faculty members in this country that has been supported by students financially. In addition to the UCR Department of Computing and Communication’s donation of $15,000 for faculty grants, the Student Technology Fee Advisory Committee has also given $150,000 to be distributed over the next three years.

By transitioning from expensive textbooks and materials to affordable materials through this initiative, students at UCR have saved an estimated total of $50,250 since the start of the initiative. Additionally, faculty and departments may be awarded with compensated funds which could be used for research or teaching resources. For participating in the transition to affordable materials, faculty may receive up to $3,000 from the pilot program. This creates an incentive for instructors to use materials that are affordable or free for students to use, even at the expense of changing the course syllabus, assignments and lectures. The initiative, so far, strived to make every effort to ease the process for professors, but no further information was found on the exact logistics of this transition.


One way this initiative has helped students is through alleviating the need to search through different bookstores and websites for the cheapest textbooks. Celine Diaztrujillo, a first-year sociology student, said, “I think this initiative would be widely appreciated across campus because it’s less added (sic) stress on the students to find the book knowing it’s ready to be downloaded online.”


In addition to removing the strenuous search for books, the initiative has also garnered popular use of online resources for professors to incorporate into their lectures and assignments which include videos, articles and informational websites. Virtual access to course materials can provide not only a cheaper alternative, but also enables students to more easily access materials wherever they may be, creating a bigger incentive for students to embrace the resources of this incentive. This is because it allows those who are dependent on portability and accessibility to thrive in obtaining their education through their busy day-to-day plans. A student may be able to read their journal articles during their commute to class on their smartphone, while another student could print a scanned copy of their textbook and annotate it with their professor’s lecture notes.
Joshua Taneo, a first-year psychology student, is cognizant of how important the project is for students who would like access to their materials online. “A majority of college students have smartphones that are able to access the PDF files of their textbooks,” he explained. “This online initiative would make it more convenient for many students to have their textbooks … with them at all times.”