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VCU Libraries' Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative helps faculty identify, customize or create free alternatives to expensive course materials.

VCU Libraries program has saved students over $10 million in textbook costs

The Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative has provided $2.1 million in student savings in the current school year alone, while offering faculty more flexibility when selecting course materials.

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VCU Libraries’ Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative supports Virginia Commonwealth University faculty members who eliminate textbook costs for students by transitioning to open educational resources or library content.

For the fall 2023 and spring 2024 semesters, across 414 course sections with student enrollment of 23,262, the students have saved $2.1 million they otherwise would have needed to pay in textbook costs.

Over the past seven years, savings have topped $10 million in courses that enrolled 96,080 students.

“Cost is a barrier to education for too many students,” said Karen Bjork, head of digital libraries and publishing for VCU Libraries. “We continue to be excited by the growth and expansion of our Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative and the partnerships that have been created with VCU faculty to improve the educational experience for VCU students.”

The initiative helps faculty identify, customize or create free alternatives to expensive course materials.

Library faculty help find and evaluate open, no-cost or library-licensed materials like e-books with unlimited simultaneous users; create and share original works, customized resources or ancillaries like test banks; and assess students’ perception of materials and the impact on their performance. They also provide faculty consultations, presentations and workshops, and provide financial support through VCU Affordable Course Content Awards and VIVA Open Grants.

The initiative’s goal is to alleviate textbook costs for VCU students. A 2023 report, “VCU and the Virginia Course Materials Survey,” found that VCU students were worried about textbook costs more than their peers at other schools, with approximately 80% of VCU students expressing some level of worry about affording course materials and nearly 20% saying they were extremely worried. It also found that VCU students were more severely affected by textbook costs than peers at other schools in Virginia and the U.S., with 80% saying they had chosen to not purchase a textbook for a course because of the cost.

The program has been growing significantly in recent years, helping VCU students in fiscal year 2023 avoid $1.8 million in textbook costs, an increase of 15% over the previous fiscal year. And the current fiscal year has seen a 12% increase.

“It’s wonderful to see the Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative continue to grow its reach and impact,” said Abbey Childs, open educational resources librarian for VCU Libraries. “From supporting the creation and adoption of open educational resources to providing free-to-access library e-books for faculty and students, this initiative not only saves students money but supports their overall academic success and sense of belonging on campus.”

Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said the Open and Affordable Content Initiative is a great example of VCU Libraries and the faculty working to support students.

“I can’t say enough about the benefits this student-centered collaboration is delivering for individuals across our campuses,” Sotiropoulos said. “My compliments to the library and faculty leaders who deserve all the credit for the work they are doing together to increase the affordability of the VCU student experience. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for these growing partnerships and the increasing savings they will bring to students.”

VCU students can search for classes based on textbook costs and can find classes that have free or low-cost course materials. VCU makes this information available on Banner, or the VCU Schedule of Classes.

Faculty interested in learning more about the initiative can visit here.