Operationalizing Higher Education Affordability Initiatives: Starting with the Textbook

Brief Abstract

UCF’s Division of Digital Learning has teamed up with the UCF Libraries, the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning, the UCF Bookstore, and various other internal and external stakeholders to form a diverse team committed to driving down course materials costs for students through its Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) Initiative.


James (Jim) is the Program Coordinator of UCF's Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) initiative and an instructional designer on UCF's Personalized Adaptive Learning (PAL) team. He manages UCF's Pressbooks network and runs a multi-institutional Realizeit (adaptive learning) workgroup. A good portion of his day-to-day duties involves collaborating with faculty and other supporting entities around campus to bring open and/or adaptive projects to fruition.

Additional Authors

Dr. Wendy Howard is the Program Director of the Pegasus Innovation Lab at the University of Central Florida, which is an incubator of experimental projects focused on digital learning innovations that can be developed and refined through rapid prototyping and then promoted throughout the university to maximize collective impact on student success at scale. With over twenty years of experience in both instructional design and teaching, her current research is focused on faculty development, collaborative online learning and internationalizing the curriculum through technology.

Extended Abstract

The disproportionate levels of college ‘textbook’ inflation over the last 15 years (more than double the overall rate – cf. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and the 65% of students who forgo buying their textbooks at some point due to cost are widely-accepted realities (Kristof, 2018; SPARC, 2019) that have opened the eyes of many, including the publishing companies, to come up with dynamic solutions to address these concerns.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF), more than 50% of students (n=1,975) surveyed (FLVC, 2016) indicate they ‘frequently’ or ‘occasionally’ do not buy their textbook(s) due to cost, and—more generally—even those who do buy but ‘delay’ their purchase(s) for any number of reasons (e.g., financial aid disbursement) experience a (roughly) 20% decrease in academic performance (Agnihotri, Essa, & Baker, 2017).

The aforementioned data points have propelled UCF to formulate a systematic approach for reducing student costs, while maintaining quality learning experiences across the many modalities in which coursework is delivered at the University.

As an internal community, the Division for Digital Learning (DDL) collaborates with the UCF LibrariesFaculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL), and UCF Bookstore to grow efforts in the areas of 1) First Day inclusive access to discounted publisher materials and 2) zero-cost materials through library-sourced content and open educational resources (OER).

Externally, through the Affordability Counts program, DDL partners with its counterparts in the State University System (SUS) of Florida and Florida College System to track, report, and celebrate faculty who deliver courses using instructional materials that cost less than or equal to $20 per credit hour (per course).

These efforts combined provide a comprehensive (two-fold) structure to reduce course materials costs for UCF students by removing barriers around access to the educational content required to help them succeed academically, while also establishing a mechanism by which to recognize faculty who choose to create a more equitable, accessible educational experience for their students.

To date, UCF has captured a projected student savings of $1,671,745.27, starting with a variety of grassroots efforts in 2016 up to the current provost-level AIM initiative in 2019.

  • First Day Pilots (Spring and Summer 2019): $115,895.49
  • Open Educational Resources (Since 2016): $911,855.64
  • Library-Sourced Materials (Since 2016): $643,994.14

This session will involve a dialogue around the partnerships that formed and the level of thoughtfulness and persistence required to implement a multi-pronged affordability initiative, topped off with some lessons learned thus far in this crucially important effort to ease the cost burden for students on the road to degree completion.