Kiplinger’s and Forbes magazines rank UCF among the nation’s best education values, and 50 percent of first-time-in-college students at UCF graduate without any educational debt. Yet, students can still find ways to save some extra cash as they work toward their degrees.

That’s why UCF Libraries has made it a priority to find solutions to help students with textbook affordability. In March, Katy Miller was hired as the university’s first student success/textbook affordability librarian, and she is leading the charge to make significant changes in the ways students access textbooks and course materials at UCF.

Responses to a 2018 statewide survey conducted by Florida Virtual Campus, which was created by the state legislature to provide shared educational services for Florida, indicates that 64.2 percent of Florida higher education students did not purchase a required textbook due to cost. Further, 42.8 percent took fewer courses, 40.5 percent did not register for a specific course, and 35.6 percent attributed earning a poor grade to textbook cost.

Conversely, students who have access to no- or low-cost course materials tend to have higher grade-point averages, lower failure and withdrawal rates, and decreased financial hardship, according to Open Education Group’s The Review Project.

UCF Libraries first began actively addressing textbook affordability in 2016 and has enlisted help in identifying ways to reduce the cost of course materials through a campuswide collaboration that also includes the Division of Digital Learning, the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning and Barnes & Noble at UCF.

In that short time, several improvements have been implemented. The library reports UCF faculty have taught more than 350 classes to date using open or library-sourced materials, in turn reaching more than 20,000 students and potentially saving them more than $1.9 million.

Miller is particularly passionate about addressing the issue because of her own college experience when she financed her own education. In her few months on the job, she says she has heard from students, faculty and staff on the importance of making the cost of textbooks less of a burden.

Miller outlines what students should know before buying their textbook, and she also shares four ways faculty can help the cause.

Four methods UCF students can try when seeking cheaper books

1. See if your text is available as an e-book

In some cases, the library has purchased the e-book version of assigned course textbooks. These texts can be accessed regardless of time or location and at no cost to the student.

Students can search if their textbooks are available in an e-book format through the library’s digital collections catalog.

2. Utilize textbook lending

In 2018, the library implemented a textbook lending service at the circulation desk. Certain textbooks can be accessed for a two-hour loan on a first-come, first-served basis. Miller cautions students to avoid relying solely on the course reserves — sometimes there is only one copy of a book for a class of 200 students — but it can certainly be used as a resource.

To find if your textbook is part of the reserves, search the reserves catalog.

The library is consistently working to add more titles to the lending library and has gotten help through funding from campus partners and book donations.

SGA and Knights Pantry are currently sponsoring a textbook donation drive for the UCF Libraries’ reserves catalog through Aug. 2. Textbooks can be donated to any of Knights Pantry’s 17 donation bins on campus.

In the spring semester, Knights Pantry and the Student Government Association partnered on a book drive, encouraging students to donate their used textbooks to the library. Miller says the library was able to add 60 books to their reserves, bringing their total collection to 226 titles.

SGA and Knights Pantry are currently sponsoring a drive again through Aug. 2. Textbooks can be donated to any of Knights Pantry’s 17 donation bins on campus, which can be located in the maps section of the UCF Mobile app.

3. Negotiate a lower price at the Barnes & Noble at UCF

Take advantage of the bookstore’s price matching option and/or request that the online access code be “unbundled” from the book. Sometimes you can save money by purchasing a used text and an access code, sometimes not. Regardless, the 2008 Higher Education Authorization Act requires that “bundled” items — generally the college textbook and supplemental materials, including online access codes — also be made available “as separate and unbundled items, each separately priced.”

4. Talk to your professor

Faculty want students to be successful. If getting course resources is an issue, it is important to keep them informed of the challenge and ask if there are any alternatives they can offer. For example, students may be able to use an older edition of the textbook.

Four actions faculty can take to help textbook affordability

Miller urges faculty to be cognizant of how much their students are paying for textbooks and consider looking for alternative resources, which the library can help identify.

“Especially if you’re developing a new course or making changes to your course — that’s the perfect time to look into alternatives,” she says.

1. See if the library can offer your textbook as an e-book.

To date, Miller says faculty have saved students hundreds of thousands of dollars by using library e-books as replacements of the assigned course text. The library will check for e-book candidates that allow unlimited users and offer favorable digital rights management.

2. Join faculty who have adopted an open textbook.

Open educational resources are openly-licensed digital textbooks that are freely available online. Open textbooks allow anyone to read, copy, distribute or modify the course content at no cost. Check out OpenStax hosted by Rice University as one resource for general education program and introductory course textbooks. The UCF Libraries and Center for Distributed Learning are partnering to support faculty interested in exploring or authoring an open educational resource.

3. Donate a copy of your print textbook to the library.

The library recognizes that not every textbook has an open or library-sourced equivalent, so as an alternative, Miller encourages faculty to donate a copy of their print textbook to the Library Reserves. Most textbooks will circulate for two hours, providing access to students who haven’t yet purchased the textbook or intend to rely on the reserves copy.

4. If you use an e-book or open textbook, tell the UCF Libraries.

Sometimes a faculty member might use an e-book or open textbook but hasn’t communicated that to the library. In order to make sure that the e-book will always be available and that enough copies are accessible for all students in the course, Miller needs to know. If you’re a faculty member who is using an e-book or wants to find alternative methods, contact katy.miller@ucf.edu or 407-823-2055.