Program saves students money on textbook costs

Submitted photo Under a pilot project, Wright State negotiates lower prices for textbooks and online access content on behalf of its students.

Submitted photo Under a pilot project, Wright State negotiates lower prices for textbooks and online access content on behalf of its students.

FAIRBORN — A pilot project at Wright State University called Inclusive Courseware designed to dramatically reduce the cost of textbooks and online access content for students has saved them nearly double than what was originally estimated.

In the nine classes that participated in the project during the spring semester, students saved more than $102,400, for an average savings of 48 percent. Original projections were that students would save about $56,000.

Original savings estimates for an expanded pilot in the fall semester involving 40 courses were about $300,000 for courses utilizing printed textbooks and $110,000 for courses utilizing e-books. New estimates show that as much as $651,000 will be saved.

In the spring semester, Wright State also formally adopted an “auto-adopt policy” that allows the Wright State Bookstore to assume faculty members will use the same book as the last time they taught a class if they have not made a change prior to the federal deadline for identifying the text for a class. That policy will be used for the first time on a limited scale for the fall 2018 semester, but looks as if it will result in savings to students of at least another $61,000.

Wright State’s “inclusive access” pilot project enables the university to negotiate the price of textbooks and online access content on behalf of its students, using their collective power.

“We are definitely leading the way among Ohio’s colleges and universities on textbook affordability,” said professor Dan Krane, chair of the Ohio Faculty Council and chair of the Wright State Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency.

State Rep. Rick Perales, chair of the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Higher Ed and a member of the Joint Committee on College Affordability, said that with the rising costs of education nationally, it is more important than ever that students minimize their educational debt prior to starting their professional careers.

“Not a day goes by without a news article commenting on our young workforce defaulting on student loan debts,” said Perales. “WSU has proven that the higher ed community can unite and provide quality educational material at low costs. These young people are the future of our state and nation. We must do what we can to set them up for success.”

Wright State is collaborating on a study on the cost of textbooks with institutions in the Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), an association of Ohio’s public universities.

Each institution will determine the cost of the highest enrollment major in each of eight areas that together will cover more than half of the undergraduate student enrollment. Wright State will work with the Barnes and Noble campus bookstore and OhioLink to obtain costs of new, used, rental and e-books for the selected majors.

An IUC stakeholder meeting in late May drew a standing-room-only crowd to hear about the Wright State project from Jennifer Gebhart, the bookstore manager, and Marcia Stewart, the bookstore director.

Krane, who has been part of the Wright State team developing the program from the start, said textbook costs have significantly outpaced inflation for the past 15 to 20 years, a trend that studies have shown has adversely affected student performance and the way faculty teach courses.

If inclusive access was adopted by all of Ohio’s four- and two-year public colleges and universities, Krane says, it would save students at least $300 million a year.

Currently, individual students order textbooks through the bookstore and are charged “list price” by the publisher. With the Wright State Inclusive Courseware approach, the university orders textbooks through the bookstore for all of the students who need them and gives the publisher the price the university is willing to pay.

The publisher then gives the university the list of textbooks it is willing to sell at that price. If the faculty member agrees that one of the textbooks is acceptable, then it’s a deal. If not, the faculty member selects the textbook he or she wants, and the students pay list price, as they have done before the program was available.

Students are charged an Inclusive Courseware fee to cover the cost of the textbooks when they pay tuition, but they can opt out of that fee if they choose to buy textbooks on their own. The handful of institutions that have used inclusive access typically get textbooks for 50 to 70 percent below list price and much less than even the wholesale prices, Krane says.

He said publishers have an incentive to use inclusive access because they currently capture only about 30 percent of the textbook market for a class since many students choose to not buy the textbook or to buy a used book or a book from a wholesaler. Inclusive access would give publishers virtually 100 percent of the market, he said.

The pilot project comes in the wake of a recommendation by the Governor’s Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education that all institutions of higher education in Ohio explore means of reducing the cost of textbooks and report annually on their progress.

Wright State’s textbook affordability working group will meet throughout the summer to discuss ways to further reduce textbook costs.

Submitted photo Under a pilot project, Wright State negotiates lower prices for textbooks and online access content on behalf of its students. photo Under a pilot project, Wright State negotiates lower prices for textbooks and online access content on behalf of its students.