Keeping Education Affordable: Gulf Coast Faculty Tackle the Rising Costs of Textbooks

archive: Keeping Education Affordable: Gulf Coast faculty tackle the rising costs of textbooks


Having frozen increases in tuition for the fifth year in a row, Gulf Coast is proud to offer the lowest tuition and fees of any of Florida’s public colleges and universities. Open enrollment and access are part of the College's mission, but a vital companion to those elements is ensuring that textbooks remain affordable, too. As the cost of textbooks has increased exponentially in the last decade, textbook affordability is under increased scrutiny. Expensive textbooks are creating a financial burden on many students, and it’s not uncommon for students to take a course without purchasing the book. According to the College Board, students at two-year institutions pay an average of $1,328 for books and supplies, not including tuition and fees. Luckily for our students, GCSC faculty members are busy creating alternative solutions.

The Language & Literature Division recently started using Open Educational Resources which are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media for teaching, learning and research purposes. The idea was proposed by Language & Literature Professor Jason Mitchell who took a sabbatical to research the issue. “For many of our students, saving $100 on a textbook can make a big difference,” said Mitchell. “Textbook affordability is one of the few areas where we have flexibility and after doing the research, I found that we could save money without compromising on quality.” "Writing in College" is used in the English ENC 1101 course and was adopted from the State University of New York (SUNY). It covers exactly what is necessary in only 90 pages and is free for students to access online in PDF format. If students want a printed copy, it's available at the GCSC bookstore for $2.79.

In addition to the cost savings there have been other benefits to adopting Open Educational Resources. The faculty can customize the text with supplemental materials by adding, editing and updating content as needed. They have also found it to be very beneficial for the students and feel that they are getting more value out of their books now that they are able to write in them. “Traditionally, students are reluctant to write in their textbooks because reselling it is their priority,” said Kelly Williams, Writing & Reading Lab Supervisor and temporary full-time Assistant Professor.  “As an instructor, I strongly advocate students annotate, and now they can since they’re able to print the entire book, or specific selections to fit their needs.”

Students have noticed the difference and are appreciative of the savings. “I was surprised to find out my English 1101 book was a free download, given that many classes require multiple books that can cost in excess of $200 each,” said Sara Fuller, Nutrition major. “Cheaper textbooks support a less stressful environment and allow me to focus more energy on my class work.”

The Mathematics Division has been doing their part to reduce textbook costs, too. When the Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus textbooks were moving to the next edition, faculty explored options to save students money and decided to write their own. Lloyd Harris, along with editor Sharon Hudson, took on Trigonometry and Terri Bedford, along with editor Michael Brinegar, tackled Pre-Calculus.

"By cutting down the costs of textbooks, I hope that students won't have to work as hard and can spend more time studying." - Lloyd Harris, Professor, Mathematics Division

Similar to the Open Education Resources, the Mathematics professors have the freedom to update and edit the content to fit their needs. “Whenever we’ve selected textbooks in the past they didn’t always include everything required by the state, so we had to add supplemental materials,” said Bedford. “Now we can have everything we need in one book.” Both are free for students in PDF format, and are available in hard copy in the bookstore for under $50. Students can also view the supplemental course videos online for free, which in conjunction with the textbook, is a tremendous value.

In the year these affordable textbook alternatives have been in place, the savings have been amazing. Math students have saved over $40,000 and English students have saved over $77,000. With such early success, divisions throughout the College are now looking into affordable textbook options to decrease the costs for their students in the future.