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. Lily Dubach serves as the university’s textbook affordability librarian, and she is helping lead 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 campus-wide collaboration that also includes the Division of Digital Learning, the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning, Barnes & Noble at UCF, teaching faculty, and the Office of the Provost. This partnership works together under the Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) Initiative.

In that short time, several improvements have been implemented. The library reports that as of this spring, UCF faculty have taught more than 950 class sections to date using open or library-sourced materials, in turn reaching more than 65,000 students and potentially saving them more than $6.7 million.

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

5 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. The UCF Libraries is currently working on a specialized search functionality through a browsable catalog that will allow students to see all e-books used as textbooks. Students will be able to filter results by class and professor.

2. Utilize textbook lending

In 2018, the John C. Hitt 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. Dubach 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.

The branch and Connect campus also include some textbooks on reserve.

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, such as Student Government and Knights Pantry, and book donations.

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.

5. Explore financial aid options

Talk to your advisor about financial aid options used for textbooks. Some students are eligible for the Textbook Purchase Program.

5 actions faculty can take to help textbook affordability

Dubach 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.

Some methods are quick, while others take time to consider, plan and execute.

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

This is the quickest method and saves time for faculty. Dubach or the faculty’s subject librarian can check if the faculty’s textbook is available as a free library-sourced e-book.

To date, Dubach says faculty have saved students potentially more than $2 million dollars by using library e-books as replacements of the assigned course text. The library will check for e-book candidates that allow unlimited simultaneous users and offer favorable digital rights management.

2. Join faculty who have adopted an open textbook

Open educational resources (OER) are openly-licensed digital textbooks that are freely available online. OER 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 in the OER format.

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, Dubach encourages faculty to donate a copy of their print textbook to the library course 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, relay this to Barnes & Noble’s Adoption & Insights Portal (AIP)

AIP is UCF’s official system to track textbook adoptions. Did you know that AIP can also show options that are no-cost to students? This means that when students search the bookstore for their textbooks, they will know that the assigned materials have free options.

The bookstore provides instructions to faculty and departmental administrators on how to display library-sourced e-books or open resources through AIP.

5. Contact the your textbook affordability librarian

Sometimes a faculty member might use an e-book or open textbook but hasn’t notified AIP or the library. To make sure that the e-book will always be available and that enough copies are accessible for all students in the course, Dubach needs to know.

If you’re a faculty member who is using an e-book or wants to find alternative methods, contact Lily Dubach at [email protected].