Zero-cost and affordable course materials help SF State students

A student ponders a shelf full of textbooks.

Photo credit: Carlos Mota, Jr., Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Instructors, academic affairs and others team up to offer solutions

In a perfect world, college students would take the classes that prepare them for the future they dream of. Unfortunately, other considerations can get in the way. According to San Francisco State University Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Operations Brian Beatty, one in three students chooses their courses based on the cost of materials. And sometimes students take the classes they want, but the cost of materials can undercut their ability to excel. In a 2017 survey of San Francisco State students conducted by the University’s Academic Technology department, only 26 percent said that they always bought all the materials required for a course.

That’s why SF State, with funding from the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s office and the state legislature, is trying to ensure that course materials are affordable for all. Since 2014, Academic Technology, the University’s J. Paul Leonard Library, the Disability Programs and Resource Center and the SF State Bookstore have been working with faculty to replace expensive textbooks with lower-cost alternatives such as high-quality open educational resources, library resources, digital or customized textbooks and faculty-authored materials. To assist students in making affordable course choices, the course schedule now identifies classes that use zero or low-cost course materials.

Sophomore Katherine Corkill, a psychology major, says taking courses that offer affordable or free materials is refreshing. “I’m sure I can speak for a majority of students when I say that if a professor announces that no textbooks or access codes will be required to be purchased, the whole classroom sighs in relief,” she said. 

Freshman Sukriti Rai says using an older version of a required textbook helped her cut costs by half. “This helped me budget my financial needs better,” said Rai.

Faculty who wish to lower course costs can receive funding to develop open educational resources by submitting an Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) grant proposal at Awards range from $250 to $2,500. 

Beatty says the University’s efforts to cut the cost of course materials over the past four years have resulted in an estimated $5 million in savings for students. “As more faculty approach their courses from affordable and open perspectives, and as awareness builds in the form of zero-cost course materials designations, there is greater opportunity to increase course access for all students, a hallmark of the equity that is so representative of SF State,” Beatty said.