Affordable Learning Solutions

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At a Glance

In Progress

Our Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative stems from our dedication to removing all obstacles and barriers on the path to a world-class education.

At the heart of Arizona Online’s mission is a dedication to removing all obstacles and barriers on the path to a world-class education. One formidable challenge continues to be access to quality, affordable learning materials - students struggle with purchasing the required books and resources for classes due to cost, and are not prepared for success on the first day of classes. A survey of 1000 students from four-year institutions across the US and Canada on student access to course materials found that 85% of students delayed or avoided purchasing textbooks for their courses, with 91% citing cost as the reason. Fifty percent of the same students said that their grades had suffered because of their decision1. The U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Student Public Interest Research Groups conducted a similar survey2 of more than 2000 students from over 150 universities, and determined the following major findings:

  1. Students continue to choose to forgo purchasing required course materials despite concerns that their grades will suffer.
  2. The cost of course materials was a factor in enrollment decisions.
  3. Students expressed the desire for faculty to adopt alternatives to costly textbooks, such as free and online textbooks.

As the number of quality free and low-cost learning materials continues to increase, Arizona Online seeks to connect faculty with viable options for reducing the cost of textbooks and resources for their students. Our mission is to ensure that all of our learners have access to a high-caliber academic experience without sacrificing rigor or quality. The Arizona Online Affordable Learning Solutions initiative hopes to achieve the following goals:

  • Inform Arizona Online faculty of the variety of quality, lower and no-cost textbooks and learning materials available as replacements for their current costly materials
  • Assist Arizona Online Faculty with the curation, selection and deployment of these materials in their fully-online courses
  • Measure the rate of cost-savings distributed to Arizona Online students over time

Reducing Costs

As you begin your course design and development, let your instructional designer know that you are interested in lessening or eliminating the cost of the textbook and materials in your course. They will assist you in finding alternative resources and can connect you to other partners around campus.

UA Library-Licensed eBooks

Did you know that the UA Library routinely purchases electronic textbooks for students to use for free in lieu of purchasing a printed text? And that in some cases, students can even download entire ebooks and keep them forever? This is easily the most painless method of reducing textbook costs in that you can use your desired text without deferring the cost to your students. Licensing terms vary widely, but you can work with a library liaison for your discipline to see if your textbook is available in this format and the number of seats available.

Library liaisons are assigned by discipline and can assist with locating OER, library-licensed books, as well as articles and book chapters. They can even provide you with links to the materials that can be embedded directly into D2L. Find your library liaison.

Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources, or OER, are free for anyone in the world to download or read online. They’re either in the public domain or have a license (usually a Creative Commons license) that allows them to be freely shared, copied, and modified. Several databases exist to locate OER, including the internationally-regarded MERLOT Collection for peer-reviewed learning objects, and Cool4Ed that provides the option to enter an ISBN of an expensive textbook and see a curated list of free alternatives. The OpenStax CNX offers fully open textbooks, as well as instructor materials and test banks.

With the plethora of open educational resources available, you may feel overwhelmed by seeking out quality materials to use in your course. In addition to expert help from your library liaison, you are free to contact the UA’s Open Education Librarian, Cheryl Cuillier, for help finding OER for your classes (see contact information below). 

Inclusive Access

In some cases, your desired textbook may not be available as a licensed ebook or OER. Inclusive Access serves as an alternative delivery mechanism that reduces the cost of digital textbooks from commercial publishers. The UA BookStores work to negotiate significant discounts on the digital textbooks, which are directly accessed from D2L on the first day of class. Students have until the drop/add date of the course to opt out of purchasing the content.  If they don’t opt out, the cost of the required digital course materials is automatically applied to their Bursar’s accounts. To learn more, visit Inclusive Access FAQ.

If you are looking to provide a discount to students on a digital version of your textbook, you can work with the UA BookStores to see if your textbook can be a part of the Inclusive Access program. In order to give time for the UA BookStores to negotiate the price with the publisher, the bookstore should be notified in the beginning of March for Summer and Fall classes, and the beginning of September for Spring courses.

Additional Resources

Research and Data

Resources and Collections



Angela Gunder
Former Director of Instructional Design & Curriculum Development, Digital Learning
VP of Learning, Online Learning Consortium
Carmin Chan
Director, Online Student Success
Arizona Online
Cheryl Cuillier
Open Education Librarian
University Libraries