Faculty at Earlham College are taking the lead in a statewide initiative that is making textbooks more affordable for students.
The effort saved 155 students $12,356.67 during the 2019-20 academic year, earning a spot on PALSave Indiana’s “Top 3 leaderboard.” PALSave is an initiative by the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana that promotes the use of free course materials, including open textbooks or library ebooks. It is supported by a five-year grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc.
“Textbook costs have risen at a rate that has far outpaced inflation and other consumer goods,” said Academic Technologies and Seminaries Librarian Karla Fribley, Earlham’s faculty liaison for the PALSave program.
“This is especially true in the STEM fields where textbooks are often $200 each,” she said. “There is strong research that shows that students skip or take fewer credits because of it. It’s a problem for students who may already be struggling and don’t have the materials.”
The effort reflects Earlham’s commitment to accessibility and widening the path to a top-notch liberal arts education for all students. Sixteen faculty members from across Earlham’s four academic divisions participated in PALSave workshops during the 2019-20 year. Ten of these faculty members published textbook reviews in the Open Textbook Library, helping other faculty who are in the process of evaluating new course materials. Seven faculty members also received $500 course redesign grants to explore alternatives in their classes for the current academic year.
For Corinne Deibel and Lori Watson, both professors of chemistry, participation in the program has resulted in a $180 savings for each student in their introductory chemistry class.
“Lori and I have been really worried about the costs of textbook in chemistry,” Deibel said. “We have been discussing switching to an open-resource textbook for many years but we didn’t think there was enough material to replace the physical textbook. That has really started to change.”
Last spring, the professors reviewed an open textbook and discovered it followed the same curriculum and aligned with the pedagogy used in the class. The open textbook is free to their students and is paired with a $20 digital workbook that provides supplemental resources and assignments.
“We didn’t change any of our course learning outcomes,” Deibel said. “In fact, homework that we use was paired directly to the open textbook. If they needed more information about a topic, it was aligned with the textbook.
“This is one of the first years I’ve had positive feedback about the textbook,” she said.
PALSave isn’t just saving students money. It is supporting stronger outcomes in the classroom and empowering faculty to make meaningful change, Watson said.
“Our goal is to make our courses as accessible as possible,” she said. “Every year I’ve had students who come to me and haven’t bought the textbook for financial reasons. Sometimes students haven’t been able to get the book for a couple of weeks until they get their campus job sorted out. That’s a couple of weeks where certain students are having to get information solely from a lecture or by borrowing someone else’s book. That makes it difficult to be successful— especially in a class that a lot of first-year students are taking when they are trying to learn how college works.”