UTC Affordable Courseware Program has saved students $1 million since 2017
In just five years, the affordable courseware initiative has saved more than $1 million in the pockets of students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The initiative was little more than a good idea when Rachel Fleming joined UTC in 2017 as a scholarly communications librarian and was tasked with driving it forward.
“What drew me to UTC was that affordability was part of the position and I was looking for something where I knew my work would make a difference for the benefit of the students and I am very satisfied with that,” said Ms.
“Librarians enjoy speaking to the entire faculty and helping them design what they need for their courses, and I love hearing from them on how we can achieve that.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the annual cost of college textbooks and supplies averaged $1,226 per student in 2021. “Affordable course materials”, generally alternatives to printed or digital textbooks, have been shown to help reduce costs for students.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the development of digital and/or online courseware in response to demand for online instruction, doubling its inventory at UTC almost overnight.
“Not only has COVID really brought this to the students who had to continue their education from home and needed materials, it opened many people’s eyes to the real life of the students where expenses and money are big issues,” said Ms. Fleming . “Textbooks can be an unexpected expense for many students, especially first-generation students.
“I think of someone who comes to UTC who worked really hard, maybe took some community college courses and got good grades, got admitted here and then has all these unexpected expenses. Her experience is, “I worked really hard to get here and pay my college tuition, and now you’re telling me there’s this extra $400 for books? Not only can it be an unexpected expense, some students come from families that just don’t have that much money, and it can mean choosing between living expenses and books.”
While “e-version” books are widely available from textbook publishers, they’re not necessarily a more cost-effective option.
The development of more affordable course materials for UTC students is the result of collaboration between Ms. Fleming and faculty, who are asking for help in designing and preparing materials that can replace textbooks to achieve learning outcomes. In most cases, course material costs are completely eliminated in revised courses.
“It’s really the faculty that are adjusting their courses,” Ms. Fleming said. “We have worked on courses at all levels – from introductory to advanced to graduate level – and I have worked with faculty from all colleges. Although it was primarily the College of Arts and Sciences, I have also worked with faculty members from Rollins College of Business, College of Health, Education and Professional Studies and even the College of Engineering and Computer Science.”
The faculty also creates free open access materials via the UTC Scholar platform, which is shared worldwide. For example, Chris Horne’s “A Fast, Free, Easy-to-Read Introduction to Empirical Social Science Research Methods” by UTC Dalton Roberts Professor of Public Administration has been downloaded more than 5,800 times since 2018 – all for free – by scholars in Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe.
Ms. Fleming described UTC Scholar as home to the university’s research and creative output and publications, including honors theses, master’s and doctoral theses, conference proceedings such as those from ReSEARCH Dialogues and the annual River Cities Industrial-Organizational Psychology Conference at UTC, and the journal Modern Psychological Studies , which is student-produced and supervised by David Ross, Professor of Psychology at the UC Foundation.
Ms. Fleming has been busy this summer assisting faculty in locating and reviewing materials for courses being revised for the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year.
“Affordable course materials are part of what we do as an institution to ensure an engaging and insightful experience,” said Ms. Fleming. “It is part of our strategic, transformative learning purpose to be good stewards of our resources and enable good stewardship of our students’ resources while providing truly great learning experiences.
“Since 2020, Tennessee has had such a boom in interest and development of free materials for classes, and we are truly a leader in this state and among the institutions that are setting the pace.”
The affordable courseware initiative is undoubtedly Ms. Fleming’s favorite task.
“People look at their course materials and ask, ‘What if I taught it this way, and what could I use with these more engaging, active pedagogical processes?'” said Ms. Fleming.
“My portfolio includes other responsibilities, but when someone approaches me for affordable materials, I literally throw everything else I do off my desk. I can’t wait to talk about what we can do to make their courseware more affordable and meet their learning goals.”