Making Courses Affordable

Course Material Affordability

We all know that textbooks and homework software can be expensive. Ranging from $50 to $300 for books alone, there are a wide range of course materials that students are required to purchase during college. However, our students cannot always accommodate these costs. A 2018 study from Florida Virtual Campus found that the cost of textbooks negatively impacted student access to required materials in multiple ways. 64% of students could not purchase a required textbook, 43% took fewer courses, 41% avoided a specific course, 36% earned a poor grade, and 23% of students in the study dropped a course because of the impact of high course material costs (Florida Virtual Campus, 2019). Some students had to make more than one of these sacrifices due to financial barriers, but it is important to note that the consequences of these costs are large impacts to academic performance.

We don’t want textbooks to be the reason that students can’t continue in their education at Iowa State. Many instructors at Iowa State have begun are addressing these concerns and are making strides to support course material affordability in their classes. How can you do the same? There is no right answer to that question for every instructor, but there are a few ways you can impact the affordability of your course while still offering the same quality of content you are accustomed to.

Affordable Course Material Options

Course Reserves

ISU Library’s Course Reserves service works with instructors to make available required course materials for current classes. Instructors work with Library staff to create course lists of these materials, the majority of which are available full-text or streaming online and can be accessed by students 24/7. This allows students to access online course lists and required materials easily.

Contact: University Library Course Reserves Department,

Immediate Access

Iowa State’s Immediate Access program is a collaborative program between the ISU Book Store, faculty, and publishers by negotiating a reduced rate for course materials that students are given access to on the first day of class.

Visit for more information.

Contact: ISU Book Store Immediate Access team,

Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational materials (textbooks, lab books, presentations, syllabi, and software) that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use. These resources are produced by faculty for faculty, so availability may vary. Schedule a consultation to locate OER in your area.

Visit for more information.

Contact: Abbey Elder, Open Access & Scholarly Communication Librarian,

Course Packets

Course packets are custom, in-house packets compiled from original work, lab manuals, various readings, case studies, supplementary educational materials, out-of-print books, and more.

Visit for information.

Contact: Heather Dean, ISU Book Store Course Materials Manager,

Rentals & More

You don’t have to do anything exceptionally different to make your course affordable. You can simply assign an older edition of a text or encourage students to rent a copy. Be aware that some materials that include online courseware do not allow students to purchase used versions. In these cases, looking at alternate options is encouraged.

Visit for information.

Contact: Carl Arbuckle, ISU Book Store Course Materials Buyer,

How Do I Get Started?

Heather Dean ( and Abbey Elder ( are happy to talk to you about the various course material affordability options available. We can present on these topics at departmental meetings and hold group discussions about affordability on campus. Contact one or both of us to get the conversation started!

CELT is a proud supporter of the Open & Affordable Education Committee at Iowa State. For more information about the OAEC’s work, visit the group’s About page on the Iowa State OER website:


Florida Virtual Campus. (2019). 2018 student textbook and course materials survey: Results and findings. State Virtual Campus. Retrieved from