Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s recently-released textbook proposal could be accompanied by a $15 million price tag and a slew of complications for Ohio University.
According to the 2018-19 executive budget proposal, the state could soon require all public colleges and universities to cover up to $300 in textbooks and course materials per student each academic year. The money would come from the institution's budget. That could result in universities being forced to limit students’ credit hours, according to a previous Post report.
How this cost will be offset, however, has proven to be a difficult question for OU administrators. During the March Board of Trustees meeting, the proposal was discussed on multiple occasions, with a number of trustees expressing concern. That same month, OU Student Senate unanimously passed a bill opposing the textbook initiative.
A recent survey referenced at the Board of Trustees meeting revealed the average OU student spends about $1,034 on course materials per year, with components such as textbooks, clickers and online subscriptions all factoring into the equation.
“I’ve went anywhere from spending $150 a semester to spending $550,” Student Trustee P.J. Roden said. “My freshman year … all four classes required a textbook, but you couldn’t buy it used, you couldn’t buy it from someone else, you couldn’t buy an older edition because you had to get the certain online code to do the homework.”
In response to the proposed budget, OU administrators have been exploring alternatives such as the alt-textbook initiative, open resources and digital substitutes for expensive course materials.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is develop an alternative proposal to the one that’s currently in the governor’s budget,” Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit said at the March meeting. “We agree that we want to push prices down, to develop alternatives and to try and address this issue, but the $300 is not a workable proposal.”
As the only university in the state without an on-campus bookstore or fixed relationship with local bookstores, however, OU will have few options to control textbook prices.
“(These are) multiple independent businesses in Athens,” Senior Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer said at the March meeting. “We would significantly impact their ability to stay in business because if this gets put on us, we would have to bring this in-house to manage the cost.”
The Alt-Textbook program, which was established during the 2015-16 academic year, offers small stipends to faculty members interested in redesigning their courses with alternatives to traditional textbooks.
Kelly Broughton, Assistant Dean for Research & Education Services at Alden Library, has been at the forefront of OU’s gradual move toward alternative textbooks. Both this year and last, she said, alt-text classes for faculty members have been full.
“I think that our alt-textbook program is a good grassroots initiative that allows faculty to keep their academic freedom about the type of content they need to have and course materials they need to assign,” Broughton said. “But still focuses on the idea that they want to be cognizant and aware of the prices and the cost that they’re putting onto the students.”
Benoit expects the state budget proposal to be modified further as it moves through the House and Senate. For now, however, the university budget will remain the same.
“We are not yet layering in the assumptions on these textbooks,” Benoit said. “It obviously would have a very material impact on our operations and we do believe it will change in some format.”