Course Material Affordability

Iowa State is committed to enhancing affordability for students in the area of course materials, which includes offering more affordable versions of mandatory texts and course materials (known as immediate access), and free texts/materials that are created by faculty and shared with the academic community (known as open educational resources, or OERs).

The initiatives highlighted below represent the work of the University Library, University Book Store, Information Technology, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost.

Why is this important?
Studies have found – and our faculty have seen this firsthand – that textbook costs can influence students’ performance, or even their area of study. In a recent University of Massachusetts study, 50% of students reported taking a class without buying the textbook. A quarter have dropped a class due to textbook costs, and high costs have even led some students to change majors.

Conversely, other studies have shown that OERs, in addition to lowering costs, may also improve student success and retention.

Immediate access
We are working with faculty across the university to help lower costs for students by negotiating lower prices for mandatory course materials. These materials are then made available to students online through Iowa State University's learning management system (Canvas) as soon as they have registered for their courses.

Two examples: 

  • Two Department of English faculty saved students $179,000 in a single semester – $130 for each of nearly 1,400 students – by using e materials for their course
  • A professor in the Ivy College of Business saved 780 students nearly $200 each by adopting a similar strategy for a required marketing course

Faculty adoption of immediate access is growing rapidly – negotiated savings grew from $77,000 in AY16-17 to more than $1.1 million in AY17-18, with 21 new courses to be added in the current academic year.

Open Educational Resources
OER use may include faculty using a free “open textbook,” for faculty developing their own text, or creating videos or other course materials, which are offered to students at no charge. For example, a professor of mathematics saved students money by adopting an open source textbook that was free online, or available for a nominal price for students who prefer a printed version.

Iowa State has joined the Open Textbook Network, which provides students and faculty with free access to textbooks on a wide variety of topics, along with reviews from faculty who have used the books in their courses. A workshop will be held in October to help faculty identify and assess open textbooks available through the network.

Miller Mini-Grant Program
Iowa State is also investing $50,000 in 13 mini-grants to encourage even broader use of OERs across campus. Faculty may use the grants to:

  • Replace a traditional textbook with an existing open textbook
  • Redesign a course to incorporate OERs
  • Adapt existing OERs to fit existing Iowa State courses
  • Develop a new OER to use in a course, and subsequently be shared with peers in their discipline (e.g., faculty in the Department of Physics received a mini-grant to develop additional materials to leverage the free textbook they are using in their classical physics course)



Professor teaching a class