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How San Diego State Plans To Save Students $2M In Textbooks This Semester

A student walks by Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State Unive...

Photo by MILAN KOVACEVIC

Above: A student walks by Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State University, Sept. 24, 2016.

Some San Diego State University students may actually spend less this back-to-school season, thanks to a program aimed at curbing the cost of textbooks.

The university is making a pilot program called Immediate Access official this year, after trying it out for two years. It allows students to access online textbooks for some classes at no cost, prior to the start of class. If they decide to stay in the class, they can then keep the e-book for a reduced fee.

Many of them do, and that’s allowed the university to negotiate special pricing.

Reported by Matthew Bowler

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“When this first started, it was about 89 or 90 percent of the students opting in,” said Linda Woods, an instructional designer in the school’s Instructional Technology Services department.

“Now, I think we’re up to, like, 94 or 96 percent of students opting in. So when publishers are guaranteed that they’re going to sell to that level, they’re willing to negotiate the price down.”

Other Cost-Saving Initiatives

ECRT: SDSU’s Economic Crisis Response Team serves as a one-stop shop, connecting students with resources when they experience an unforeseen financial crisis.

Food Pantry: The Associated Students Food Pantry provides nutritious food and educates students on further resources available, including Calfresh.

CalFresh: CalFresh is a federally mandated and state-supervised program that provides up to $195 every month in free groceries for qualified students and can be used at Trader Joe's and other stores near campus. Working with community partners, SDSU has enrollment specialists and eligibility workers on campus who support eligible students to enroll in the program.

Mobi: Using its Mobile Demonstration Kitchen, or “Mobi,” SDSU provides cooking demonstrations for food items commonly found at the SDSU Food Pantry and provides students with recipes for cooking low-cost, nutritious meals.

Medi-Cal: Similar to CalFresh, SDSU works with community partners to support eligible students in signing up for Medi-Cal and provides students with support as they use their insurance.

Source: San Diego State University

Woods said studies show more than half of students don’t buy the physical textbooks assigned in their general education courses. With Immediate Access, publishers have agreed to cut the price by about 20 percent.

ITS Director James Frazee said students save more this way, even if they were to sell their textbooks at the end of the semester.

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This year, some 300 classes are offering the program.

“I think it’s going to impact about 20,000 students this fall with savings of close to $2 million, relative to what they would have paid if they purchased a physical, full-cost textbook,” Frazee said.

He said the online books, which allow students to highlight text and type notes into electronic margins, are also a win for educators. Rather than waiting for students to decide whether they’re staying in the class and buying a book, professors can dig in on day one. Data on how students use the online text, such as how often they reread sections, can help instructors improve their courses.

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Unlike some universities, SDSU’s program requires students to opt out of the book subscription, meaning they must proactively unsubscribe before the school adds the book fee to the rest of their student fees. Frazee said the university is diligent about giving students information and multiple warnings so they understand the process.

The university is also helping professors bring the cost down to zero, by encouraging them to adopt open source textbooks with free licensing.

U.S. college graduates owe, on average, $35,000 in student loans. California State University graduates owe about half that.

U.S. college graduates owe an average of $35,000 in student loans. This year, San Diego State is rolling out a textbook program to help chip away at the cost.

KPBS is a service of San Diego State University.

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