How to Make Textbooks More Affordable for College

One innovative way a university department has approached the challenge.

Student with booksI knew there was a problem when the textbook I had assigned for one of my chemistry classes was listed at $325 in the bookstore. It was the book that our department had been using for more than a decade, but the latest edition had just come out and the list price was $270. I encouraged my students to use the previous edition and to find used copies, and I thought everything was fine. The following year, I was no longer teaching the course, but the same textbook was being used. I wondered how students were affording the book, but I didn’t give it too much thought until several of them came to my office. When they asked for help solving problems, I pulled out my copy of the textbook, opened it to the relevant section, and showed them how to use the information provided to answer the question.  The students seemed surprised that the information they needed was readily available in the textbook. At first I was worried that the students weren’t bothering to open the book. I found that hard to believe so I finally started asking them if they had a copy of the textbook. They were embarrassed, but finally admitted that they hadn’t been able to purchase the book and were trying to make do with the copy on reserve at the library, or trying to share with friends. At that point, I became determined to find a way to help our students.

Thanks to funds that became available from an HSI-STEM grant received from the Department of Education, we were able to use part of those funds to establish a textbook lending program. I knew that this would go a long way toward helping our students with the basic supplies they needed for success, and also align with the main goal of the project, which is to support student learning.

First, the department had to determine which courses we would buy textbooks for. We wanted books that could be reused for several years so we chose to target the basic courses, the ones in which the students build their foundations for their upper division classes. Next we had to determine the number of copies that needed to be purchased and where to get them. We found that the easiest and most cost-effective thing for us to do was to buy the books directly from the publishers.

Purchasing the books was an adventure. Most publishers are used to receiving orders from bookstores, not a faculty member. It took more time than I ever imagined to determine the correct ordering protocol for each publisher. I then had to get multiple signatures at NDNU before placing each order. Finally, all of the orders were placed and only one title was on back-order.

The textbooks started coming in and then the real fun began! We had mountains of books (602 books to be exact) that had to be labeled and sorted. We had originally hoped to run the lending program through the library, but since that was not possible, we decided to house it in the Chemistry Lab. We made labels with a unique ID number for each book. We then had to place the labels on the books, create a check-out form, and have all of the books ready to go by the beginning of the semester. And as though we needed more pressure, we had to make sure the books were checked out within the first few days of the semester so that the Chemistry Lab would then be usable for its real purpose: as a lab!

Miraculously, it all worked out. The first few days of checking out textbooks were very hectic and sometimes we had lines of students out the door and down the hallway, but we were able to provide the books to students in 16 different math and science classes (10 different titles). The students were very patient and thankful as they checked out the books. They were all very polite and thanked us over and over. It was a great feeling to know that we were able to provide this basic resource for them.

In their first semester at Notre Dame de Namur University in Fall 2013, freshmen majoring in science saved about $370 through the Textbook Lending Program. By their second semester, most science majors will have saved about $577.  That is a considerable savings!

There are still some basic costs for students since some courses require using an online homework system and NDNU is not able to provide online access codes for all of the courses, but these costs are definitely more manageable ranging from $30- $85 for online access depending on the course.

If you are an NDNU undergraduate student who cannot afford the cost of your math or science books, please contact me at ihaithcox@ndnu.edu. We are here to help provide access to the education you deserve.

Isabelle Haithcox, Ph.D. is a Professor of Chemistry in the Natural Sciences Department and Project Director of Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Program – STEM Grant at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, CA.

Finish your bachelor’s degree—before your kids do! Learn how.

By Joan L.

I know there are many people like me who never quite finished their degree after spending a couple of years in college. For some it was the need or desire for a paycheck, and for others—well, visit life just got in the way. Whatever the situation, it can be frustrating and embarrassing to admit to yourself, friends and co-workers that you don’t have a degree.

When I was laid off from a company after working my way up for 13 years, I decided it was time to go back and finish my degree-before my daughter just entering high school started college.

Looking at job opportunities was discouraging without it. I knew my old company paid for tuition and books. Being a working mom, I felt it would have been impossible to take advantage of this and work while finishing college at the same time. If I had only known what I needed to get started and finish, I would have done it years ago.

It took a while to convince myself that going back to school would be worth it. I had so many questions:

  • What would it cost?
  • Would it be flexible enough with my work and home life?
  • Will my credits from community college transfer to a four-year university after all this time?

When I looked into it, I was relieved to find that:

  • Many four-year universities now offer the flexibility of part-time programs, evening courses, accelerated formats and online programs to better align with an adult students life and work needs.
  • Enrollment procedures for returning adult students are becoming simpler and offer greater support and resources like transfer credit assessments and financial aid information.

On a personal level, it was encouraging to see there were others like me out there, and that a degree was within reach.

If you’re in a similar situation and don’t know where to start, here are some tips that helped me find the right college and get started right away:

  1. Collect copies of previous transcripts from college courses regardless of how long it has been. If it’s been less than 10 years, some of these transcripts may be accessed online; otherwise you will need to contact the institution for copies. * Hint: Always ask for numerous copies that are sealed and official so you have them if you apply to more than one place. That way you can have one for yourself that you can open and look at when it comes in the mail.  Once you open it, it is considered unofficial.
  2. Research colleges that offer the programs and flexibility to meet your needs. That might include part-time, evening, weekend, or online programs. Information forums, tours and meetings are a valuable tool in guiding your decision whether or not a college is a right fit.
  3. Have a transfer credit assessment done to see what is transferable. Credits are usually available for accredited two and four year college courses, military active service, police academy, nursing programs, and college level examination programs: AP, CLEP and International Baccalaureate Exams.
  4. See what the options are for start dates. Programs for adults are usually offered with start dates year-round.
  5. Look at majors and programs that will help meet your personal and career goals. Some people make career changes when they have this opportunity.
  6. Research ways to pay for your education. There are more financial opportunities available than you might think. Some employers even offer money to help pay for the cost of tuition.
  7. If you are missing lower division general education and prerequisite classes, it is possible in some cases to complete them at a 2-year college while attending a 4-year institution.

I’m happy to say I was able to finish my degree within two years while going part-time at night. You don’t need to wait until you get laid off from a job to finish. Going back for a bachelor’s degree was the best decision I ever made. The advisors at Notre Dame de Namur University, where I chose to finish my degree, worked with me to identify what evening classes were needed to complete my degree as soon as possible with a clear roadmap to follow.

Get a free transfer credit evaluation.

Click the button and specify that you would like a transfer credit evaluation done at no cost or obligation. An advisor will contact you.

FREE Transfer Credit Evaluation

Get Financially Savvy With SALT!

At NDNU, we’re always looking for new ways to give our students a leg up. That’s why we just teamed up with SALT, a program of American Student Assistance (ASA), to help our students manage their education funding and personal finances. Best of all, this service is available at no extra charge to all of our students and alumni; you just have to sign up!

SALT is simple. When you log in to your account for the first time, you’ll be asked a few questions about yourself so it can gather your federal loan information. Everything you need to know about your student loans will be in one spot, making it easier for you to see the big picture and manage your payments. No financial mumbo jumbo. It’s all laid out for you in a way you can understand, so you can finance your education and set yourself in the right direction financially for the future. If you also have private loans, you can add those in manually. SALT will crunch all the numbers and tell you how many loans you have, how much you owe, and your monthly payment based on the standard repayment plan. If that number is too big, SALT shows other repayment options available to you, gives you a reason why each option is better, and tells you how much you would have to pay under those plans.

But it doesn’t stop at student loans! SALT also helps you manage your money in other areas in your life. Let’s say you have a job, or are looking at a certain kind of job and know how much income you’d make. Enter that income and the type of place you’re living in or want to live in (small, average or large city), and it lays out your options in a simple graphic – your payments for your loans, housing, recreation, food, and transportation, and what you’ll get in each of those categories. Looking for a job? There’s a tool for that. Need scholarships? There’s a tool for that too. If you’re confused about all the fancy loan names, SALT breaks it down for you, in a way you understand. And let’s not forget that with My Money 101, you can take financial courses online in areas such as budgeting, credit cards, and reaching your financial goals, so that you’re armed with the financial know-how to go out in the world and pave the life you want.

Are you ready to take charge of your student loan management? Get financially savvy with SALT at NDNU.