The Private Academic Library Network of Indiana awarded grants for textbooks to five faculty members at Goshen College this past summer, making their fall courses more affordable for students.

PALNI supported the faculty of 24 private Indiana colleges, universities and seminaries as a part of their PALSave initiative. In 2019, the non-profit organization was awarded a $520,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

The five faculty members participating this fall each received $500 to make changes.

One of the five faculty members who received $500 in grant money was Andrew Hartzler, professor of accounting.

“I remember spending $900 one time for one semester of books,” he said.

“Brand new students are still trying to figure out what they want to do,” Hartzler said. “They don’t even know if they’re gonna major in business or accounting. To spend $140 on something you may not even continue on with, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’”

He wants to keep the cost as low as possible for his students and has been passionate about finding ways to share information in a different format.

The course materials can now be found online at no cost to the student, working to reduce their debt.

PALNI’s mission is to help students find success through affordable learning.

Average textbook purchases add up to $1,300 nationwide annually, according to PALSave. For Goshen College students, these purchases range from $100 to $500 on average each semester.

The implementation of the initiative is designed to mitigate the various expenses students are dealing with such as food, gas and tuition, while ultimately removing some of the stress that comes with higher education.

Erin Milanese, head of learning technologies on campus and the Affordable Learning Project coordinator for PALSave, manages the grants by tracking participants and reviewing future applications.

“I’m always trying to recruit extra Goshen people and make sure Goshen is well represented in our participant pool,” Milanese said.

Julie Reese, professor of psychology, and Duane Stoltzfus, professor of communication, are two faculty members that have signed up to participate for the upcoming spring semester.

Milanese also works to compile data on students to find the impact textbook expenses have on students.

In a 2019 survey with 246 student participants at Goshen College, students reported being more likely to rent used textbooks, share, purchase them digitally and pirate them by finding free sources online.

A few students commented on taking out loans to pay for these expenses.

In an anonymous survey conducted this October, a student said, “It takes a lot of time to find a book in decent condition that’s affordable and won’t take months to arrive.”

Another student said, “Sometimes, I don’t even buy the textbooks if they are too expensive, and my grades are affected by that.”

There is an account of one student spending as much as $1,000 for the year.

“I feel like students are really impacted by the cost of high textbooks,” Milanese said. “We sometimes think that because students are at private schools, which are more expensive, that maybe they don’t care as much or they aren’t impacted.”

PALNI focuses on using Open Educational Resources (OER), an openly licensed and customizable resource to access course materials without a cost to faculty and students.

According to PALNI’s PALSave initiative, students using these materials show better retention and improvement in their academics.

Authors organize their ideas differently and give new approaches to the subject at hand. With a quick download, readers have access to all the notating tools they need to follow along.

Jonathon Schramm, associate professor of sustainability and environmental education, is another professor participating this semester.

“The books I’m using wouldn’t exist if those authors hadn’t gotten grant support from foundations to develop their textbook in the first place,” he said. “The open access textbook market works as long as we keep supporting the development of good textbooks.”

Through them, he found new ways to think about his field and uses parts of the textbooks in his course.

“There was definitely some learning time involved on how to teach well from it,” he said.

PALNI provided workshops with this in mind, teaching faculty more about the open course materials. For participants, they offered a Blackboard course through Butler University.

Faculty can modify a few course materials, but others stay in the format they were published in.

The grant is in its second year of its five-year timeline with plans to take advantage of it again in the 2021 spring and summer semesters.

“I’ve been really thrilled with Goshen’s involvement, and I know Goshen faculty care about their students,” Milanese said. “This is just another way that they can demonstrate that.”