Beyond buying a home, financing a college or university teaching can be one of the most expensive investments a person ever makes. As college costs expensive and student loan debt receives increased media attention, it is easy to overlook the unadvertised expenses associated with required university textbooks and other teaching materials, even when pursuing an online degree program.
In fact, the average cost for books is estimated at $1,200 per year for a full-time student – a 74 percent increase in just the past decade.
Her are six considerations to assist online students access, budget for and work well within the changing and potentially expensive landscape of college text books.
Just because your classes are online does not mean the program won’t require traditional textbooks. Dan Darnley, an online Expert of Music Education candidate at SUNY—Buffalo State, says he was stunned when he learned that some of his courses required purchasing physical workbooks or textbooks.
“I assumed all the required resources would be embedded in the LMS,” Darnley says.
Several online programs still need purchasing either printed e-texts or text books. Southern New Hampshire University has an online book store where prospective students or students can browse by course, sell or purchase back books.
The checkout cart adds shipping costs just like Amazon. This is an excellent resource for all online students to use to estimate a text book budget for each class or semester.
Choose textbook format wisely:
Despite research that says students choose traditional print books when cost is not a factor, Darnley says, “As an online student, e-texts are considerably easier to work with than printed textbooks. I would prefer a printed textbook if I was physically attending classes, but as an onliner, I prefer digital.” He says he uses cloud-based storage to have access anywhere to e-texts, assignments, notes, citations, videos, articles and other data.
Inquire about textbook costs prior to enrolling:
Some colleges will factor a textbook allowance into tuition, while some forward-thinking colleges have built textbook expenses directly into a fee.
Ginger Bidell, an instructional designer at Western Governors University, wrote in an email, “To make sure that Western Governors University students have access to all of their learning materials, we charge students a $145 Resource Fee for each and every sixth-month term. This fee covers the use of the online library, e-textbooks, and lots of other learning resources like web-based tutorials, simulations, practice quizzes, simulations, and assignments. Through the online library, students have access to tutorials as well as journals, magazines, newspapers, videos and e-books.”
Leverage open educational resources:
In response to spiraling text book costs, entities such as OpenStax, Lumen Learning, MERLOT II and Saylor Academy provide high-quality, peer-reviewed text books and other learning materials at little or no cost to students. These open educational resources are rapidly gaining favor among faculty and students.
If online courses use open educational resources, students will usually save considerably. It also worth browsing through these curated collections to see if whether you can access some of your recommended or required course readings for free.
Turn to the public or university library for help:
As an online learner, it is worth investigating whether you can place library books on reserve or access library subscription databases – such as JSTOR or Elsevier – online.
Beyond the university library, local public libraries also provide patrons vast databases that are accessible online. A library card may also permit you to access your $300 business text books for free.
Be a shrewd consumer:
Inquire with the college books store about renting instead of purchasing text books. Students can also purchase text books at any book store – not just the college bookstore.
Online students might save money on shipping costs by shopping the local college campus or any other book store, even if they attend a different online university. Also, send mail to the professor prior to the semester to ask if the edition of the textbook actually matters is worthwhile. In some cases, the difference between the older edition and the latest edition is hundreds of dollars.
Last, when selling back printed textbooks after the semester, shop around. Students do not need to sell textbooks back at the store in which they were purchased.
The takeaway: College text books costs can be considerable. While some online programs are regularly working to manage textbook costs, others haven’t yet fully leveraged the learning management system, open education resources and online library databases. Online learners require being informed, planning to manage text book costs and seek and secure the best textbook options available to enable their own success.