Valencia Finds Innovative Ways to Cut Textbook Costs; Down 38% in 5 Years

Over the past decade, as the cost of college textbooks skyrocketed more than 80 percent, a growing number of students have opted not to buy textbooks for their classes, in an effort to save money.  This week, Valencia College officials announced that the college has used innovative strategies to reduce the costs of textbooks — and has managed to bring the cost of the average textbook down 38 percent.

Thanks to creative work by the college’s faculty members, the average cost of the textbook or materials for Valencia courses has dropped 38 percent in the past five years. In 2012, the average cost of textbooks or materials for each class at Valencia was $125.96. Today, the average course of textbooks is now $82.77 per class.

How did the college do it? By asking faculty members to figure out what would work best.

Challenged in 2011 by the president to find ways to reduce the costs of textbooks for students, a faculty task force explored a number of ways to cut costs, including using open-source materials that are free on the Internet or digital materials that are cheaper than printed textbooks; some faculty members explored creating their own texts or materials for classes; and faculty members taught their fellow instructors how to search for cheaper alternatives than their old go-to textbooks.

“This is a really good example of one of our core beliefs at Valencia,” said Dr. Sandy Shugart, Valencia College president. “The faculty aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”

Some examples of faculty members’ innovations include:

  • Instructors in Valencia’s culinary department found a book, “On Cooking,” that can be used for almost every class in the culinary program. Students can purchase a used copy of the book for as little as $100, which averages to $16 per course.
  • Prof. Val Woldman, who teaches humanities at the Winter Park Campus, partnered with a librarian to create an online LibGuide for her Late Roman/Medieval Humanities class — and now uses the free guide instead of a textbook for her class.
  • On Valencia’s Osceola Campus, all of the lower level math classes with a lab now use a free software called IMathAS. The software replaces the textbook; students must only purchase a workbook, which ranges from $24 to $42 per course.
  • Some instructors are collecting free content from a variety of sources, including TedTalks, YouTube videos, public domain journals and books and journals available through the Valencia College library. Prof. Donna French, who teaches speech at the Osceola Campus, uses a peer-reviewed open source textbook, plus model essays, PowerPoint presentations and study guides that she has created. She also relies on free resources such as the University of North Carolina Online Writing Lab and other websites.

The college also added a new policy to help rein in future increases: Any new textbook or materials that cost 20 percent more than the previous textbook must be approved by a dean and campus president.

Dr. Susan Ledlow, vice president of academic affairs at Valencia College, and Loren Bender, vice president of finance, presented the findings to the college’s board of trustees at the trustees’ Sept. 28 meeting.