In the spring 2023 semester, Temple University Libraries participated in the Affordable Learning Pennsylvania (ALPA) student course materials survey. In addition to obtaining results from Temple students, the survey provided both state and national comparative data. Surveys of this type provide insights into how textbook costs impact our students and their behaviors related to purchasing or obtaining course materials.
Students Concerns About Textbook Costs
Students responded to 20+ questions about their experience with course materials, mostly textbooks they are required to purchase. We learned that 49% of our students indicated they were moderately or extremely worried about the cost of their course materials. That is a greater percentage of respondents than either the state or national results for that same question. **
When asked if the cost of required course materials ever caused them to not purchase a textbook, 57% of our students indicated that they occasionally or frequently did not purchase required course materials. That exceeds both state and national responses by several percentage points.
Compared to a national sample of undergraduate students and other Pennsylvania colleges and universities, Temple students spent about the same amount on their textbooks. More Temple students reported spending $100 or less on their course materials. Temple students may be spending less owing to more instructors adopting open educational resources or licensed library materials, or fewer faculty may be assigning traditional textbooks. Approximately 37% of our student respondents still reported spending $200 or more on their course materials for the spring 2023 semester.
Strategies for Avoiding Textbook Costs
A more revealing question asked students to indicate what strategies they use to reduce the cost of required course materials throughout their college career. Only 2% of Temple students reported that they do not attempt to lower their costs. Rather, based on these responses, significant numbers of Temple students use multiple strategies to reduce their costs, including purchasing used textbooks, searching for free online versions (often pirated PDF copies), and sharing with classmates. In many of these cases, Temple students engage in these practices, especially “Do Without” at numbers that exceed both national and Pennsylvania rates.
Comments Reflect Difficult Circumstances
Students shared numerous comments on the impact that the cost of their course materials has on their academic and broader life experience. Among them we found students sharing:
- The cost of course material has had a major influence on my educational progress…when high expenses are required it has been a worry that seeped into my class performance.
- [It] has caused me to be worried about how I would pay for necessities such as food, rent, etc.
- I try to not buy textbooks unless absolutely necessary. I really appreciate the professors that don’t assign a textbook.
- I have chosen courses and professors that specifically don’t make me buy textbooks
- At $150-$200 per book, it’s very difficult to afford as a student. If you cannot afford to buy the materials you will miss the assignments which will hamper your grades.
- I dislike the fact we students have to pay extra for assignments. The textbook I can deal with because there’s alternative ways to get the textbook for the course. But paying $100+ for the course assignments/exams is unreasonable.
ALPA is offering the opportunity to participate in the survey in the fall 2023 semester. Temple University Libraries has already expressed its desire to repeat the survey so that additional student responses and voices can be heard. A random set of students will receive the survey between August 28 and September 11, 2023.
When the fall results are processed and analyzed, Temple Libraries will share a final survey report with the Temple University campus. What can we, as a community, do to alleviate the challenges our students face because of high course materials costs? Here are several suggestions:
- Visit our OER Research Guide to learn more about using open educational resources (OER) as no-cost course materials;
- Faculty can consider applying for a Textbook Affordability Project award that can help fund their effort to transition their course to no-cost learning materials;
- Faculty can consult with their subject specialist librarian to discuss low or no-cost course materials for their courses;
- Faculty and students are invited to join Temple University Libraries when we celebrate Open Education Week in the spring semester;
- Sign up to receive our Owls for Open Ed newsletter so that you can stay up-to-date on the latest developments in open education at Temple University and beyond.
Together we can take action to lower the cost of course materials for our students in order to advance learning and student success. We invite you to contact us with your thoughts and suggestions or to receive additional information.
** Disclosure statement: The charts, tables and data presented in this blog post were prepared for Temple University Libraries by Bayview Analytics. Bayview Analytics was contracted by Affordable Learning Pennsylvania to conduct a statewide student course materials affordability survey, including data analysis and presentation of the survey results.