August 19, 2022

Waubonsee Voices: Shattering barriers and overcoming textbook affordability

It’s the first day of class, and the professor is going over the syllabus, expectations, and strategies to pass the course. He asks us to take out our course textbook. I could feel an overwhelming amount of shame set in as I sank into my chair. Even if I tried, I know I wouldn’t be able to come up with enough money for it before the semester ends. The assignment is due next week. I look over my shoulder and ask someone if I can make a copy of their book. I’m already falling behind.

My own lived experience is a more common scenario in college and university classrooms across the country than one can imagine. For many students and families already struggling to afford college, textbooks, many times, are too much of a financial burden. Many college students are forced to make difficult choices, including incurring more debt, working longer hours, or making choices that undermine academic success, which puts students at a disadvantage from the start. Although many institutions discuss the cost of tuition, they neglect to discuss textbook affordability with the same enthusiasm. I quickly jumped at an idea related to textbook affordability when one of my colleagues, Melissa Morgan, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Developmental Education, approached me. I knew that there had been some interest expressed from my peers at Waubonsee to explore it. Furthermore, there had been much momentum made around inclusive access across campuses nationally. It was a no-brainer for me as I knew this was an ongoing battle for marginalized students and a potential barrier to overall student success.

My colleagues and I took the framework of inclusive access to create something new at Waubonsee. We launched MyMaterials, a partnership between Waubonsee faculty, staff, the on-campus bookstore, and various publishers to deliver digital textbooks and course materials to students at a low price on the first day of class. In a one-year pilot, led by Developmental Education Math faculty and David Gliva, bookstore manager, we launched MyMaterials for two courses of our Developmental Math sections and 19 other sections. The initial results were significant; $11,663 textbook savings for students.

We then collaborated with faculty from various divisions and expanded MyMaterials to 40 courses across the college and 337 course sections, leading to an impressive $93,305 cost-saving to students. MyMaterials has allowed Waubonsee to provide textbook affordability while improving student outcomes and eliminating the confusion of purchasing the wrong materials. I am delighted to report that the majority of the courses under my division, Academic Support, are part of this program. Students can now take advantage of discounted textbook prices when they enroll in a course using the MyMaterials program. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this small pilot supporting textbook affordability multiplying so rapidly and providing significant savings for our students in just two years. In an era where diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of the higher education landscape, no student should struggle, find it difficult, or feel ashamed not to afford a textbook.

Waubonsee recognizes various approaches to textbook affordability and that no single approach can fit a variety of courses within our institution. We are committed to expanding MyMaterials and exploring other possibilities, including low/no-cost options such as Open Educational Resources (OER). We continue to remove barriers and remain focused on Student Equity and Success.

Jessica Moreno is dean for Academic Support at Waubonsee Community College.