Amid expensive textbooks, tuition and fees, instructors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are utilizing the Successful Teaching with Affordable Resources initiative to reduce the cost of course materials.

The STAR initiative has helped students save more than $3.5 million since 2019 by reducing the cost of textbooks and continues to make educational materials more affordable, according to the initiative’s website

Brad Severa, an academic technology support specialist at UNL, said there are two options within the initiative to choose: Inclusive Access and Open Educational Resources. 

Inclusive Access is a program where all students have access to an e-book format of the course textbook through Canvas at a lower price, according to Severa. He said OER is a program where free textbooks are offered for students with licenses, which is funded through grants primarily. 

There are approximately 22 faculty members participating in OER and about 100 faculty who have Inclusive Access. Severa said the program spans around 240 courses. 

Severa said many professors who are part of STAR continue to use it to reduce classroom prices and offer increased accessibility. 

Nathan Wakefield, director of first-year mathematics programs, said the program has been beneficial to students and in the Department of Mathematics. 

Before STAR, he said there was a push to have OER in place, particularly for first-year courses. However, the change was difficult due to lack of funding, he said, but with STAR offering grants for OER it was easier to switch. 

“It was a really good jumpstart and it gave us an initial cash flow,” Wakefield said. “The result is we have several thousand students not having to buy a math book.”

Wakefield said textbooks, on average, cost around $100 to $200 for the original price, so student savings altogether can total around $200,000 annually. 

Beyond the savings aspect, Wakefield said paperback textbooks are about 800 pages and too heavy for students to carry around to class. By generating a book that’s both online and mobile-friendly, he said it is convenient and flexible. 

The program has also given students the opportunity to access more books than what is required for courses, according to Wakefield.

“The other big win is that no matter what area a student is struggling in we can provide them a textbook in that area without any costs [through OER],” he said. “So there’s the real cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars we’re saving, but I think there’s also this big benefit of access. We’re giving the book to them at their fingertips without any extra expenses.”

Rob Simon, associate professor of practice in the Department of Marketing, said one of the key factors that drew him toward the program was the reduced prices it offered, so he joined Inclusive Access.

“I’ve taught for about 12 or 13 years, and it’s always frustrating when it comes to the cost of books,” Simon said.

Simon said one of the challenges he experienced was transitioning into the e-book version on Canvas. He said some students wanted to have physical copies and there were difficulties letting students withdraw from the Canvas e-book model. Aside from his first year using STAR, Simon said Inclusive Access has worked smoothly for his classes.

Carolyn Brown-Kramer, assistant professor of practice in psychology, joined the initiative in 2018 after finding out about it from a poster session at a teaching symposium. Brown-Kramer said she worked with Severa to write a proposal and receive a grant to move her course into OER. 

At the time, Brown-Kramer said she was teaching a psychology course and the cost of brand new textbooks were around $200 and used versions were around $98. After experimenting with OER, she surveyed students and found they felt less stressed with reduced prices. 

Brown-Kramer said she also enjoys that students have access to material on day one itself through the initiative.

Brown-Kramer plans on staying with the program, but she said it requires more work and preparations early on. Aside from that, she said she highly encourages her colleagues to be part of STAR.

“They don’t have to figure out how to navigate access codes and they don’t need their parent’s credit card information; it’s loaded into Canvas already,” Brown-Kramer said. “All those concerns, where students don’t have access to the book until payday or until they go to the bookstore, evaporate.”