The UCLA Library will soon offer grants to professors as incentives to use cheaper alternatives to textbooks in their classes.
The alternatives, which could include UCLA Library resources or free online readings from universities and non-profits, would help decrease rising textbook costs for students, said Sharon Farb, associate university librarian.
College textbook prices have risen three times faster than the average rate for all goods and services over the past 34 years, according to the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank.
UCLA Undergraduate Admissions estimates that UCLA students pay around $1,521 each year for their course materials.
Through its new program, the UCLA Library will distribute $10,000 among seven professors by fall, depending on their class sizes, Farb said. Professors with classes of more than 200 students will receive $2,500 grants and those with classes of fewer than 200 will receive $1,000.
Often, the time it takes to find other sources may discourage professors from using cheaper materials, Farb said.
Professors can use the grant money to compensate for the extra time or hire teaching assistants to find cheaper materials, Farb added.
Funding for the program will come from the UCLA Library and the California Digital Library, which provides free online articles and other materials from University of California research ers.
To her knowledge, the grant program will be the first of its kind west of the Mississippi and is part of a nationwide effort by college and non-profit organizations to lower steepening college textbook costs, Farb said.
UCLA Library staff based the grant initiative on a similar program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Farb said. Last year, Amherst’s program saved students $50 to $235 each. The program awarded $26,000 in grants to professors and helped save students more than $200,000, said Marilyn Billings, scholarly communication and special initiatives librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Several professors said they like the program as long as course quality is not compromised in the process, while a few had concerns about the program.
“It sort of presumes that professors are not already sensitive to the fact that textbooks cost a lot of money,” said William Zame, an economics professor.
Zame wrote his own textbook at a lower cost for one of his economics classes, but many students did not like the book since it lacked features provided by professional publishers. For instance, publishers provide the example problems, professional images and a “slick” design to make high quality textbooks, Zame said.
Not as many textbooks are available online for free, Zame said. Scholars have to do less work and earn more money when they publish with professionals, so there are more incentives to do so, he added.
Many students said the program would provide long-awaited relief from textbook costs.
“That would be the best idea,” said Vivian Chiu, a second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student. “(Textbooks) go to waste. It sucks because professors are constantly changing to new editions.”
Switching to free online materials would save her hundreds of dollars, she said.
Third-year biochemistry student Samuel Olanrewaju uses a laptop in class, but said he was worried students without laptops would have a harder time accessing online materials.
This grant program is not the first of UCLA’s initiatives to lower textbook costs. Three years ago, the UCLA Library partnered with the Associated Students UCLA bookstore and found that more than 60 percent of journal articles sold in expensive course packs at the store were already available online or through the UCLA Library.
UCLA’s undergraduate student government also has a free textbook loan library for financially disadvantaged students.
Depending on the success of the grant program, the UCLA Library may reach out to other entities on campus, such as the chancellor’s office, for more funding to expand the program in the future, Farb said.
She added that despite the program, a lot more work needs to be done to lower expenses for college students.
“There needs to be a lot more done just in general in this area in order to really have the impact that we’re looking for: to make it affordable for students to stay in school,” Farb said.
Email Taketa [email protected].