The University of Connecticut’s Co-op officially donated $300,000 of its remaining assets to affordable textbook initiatives on campus yesterday.
Vice provost for University Libraries Martha Bedard and Co-op president Timothy Dzurilla signed the agreement Thursday afternoon at Homer Babbidge Library. The donation established a $200,000 spendable account earmarked for affordable education materials and a $100,000 endowment that will continue to generate interest for textbook initiatives in the years to come, said Dzurilla.
The funds will be administered by the University of Connecticut Foundation, but spent by the university library system, he said.
“It made logical sense that this was the best way to continue to support affordable education materials for students because that was the primary mission of the Co-op 41 years ago,” Dzurilla said. “The library is the heart of the university and the Co-op was committed to supporting students from orientation to graduation and beyond, so it just seemed like a really natural extension of what we’re doing.”
The donation is intended to help Undergraduate Student Government, the UConn Affordable Textbook Committee and other student groups push their efforts to increase access to open source materials on campus to the next level, Dzurilla said.
These initiatives could take the form of promoting open source materials on campus, hiring part-time staff to lead workshops with professors, bankrolling production of more affordable textbooks and offering summer salaries to professors who redesign their courses to incorporate affordable textbooks, said Bedard, chair of the UConn Affordable Textbook Committee.
“I think the top of the list is promoting awareness, working from within to change the culture,” Bedard said. “An academic library’s role is to choose high quality materials in partnership with the faculty to create a collection and this is an extension of that role.”
Often times, price simply isn’t a factor for instructors when they are choosing a textbook for their classes, Dzurilla said. Many textbook companies market directly to professors, he said, downplaying price in favor of features like pre-written lecture slides, exam materials and homework access codes that appeal to instructors with shrinking budgets and tightening schedules.
“If year after year you just kind of click and get the new edition without realizing it’s going up $50 a year, that’s a problem,” Dzurilla said.
In many cases, affordable textbook alternatives already exist, it’s just an issue of getting them into the hands of professors who many not know about them, Bedard said. She said one of the most compelling ways to advocate for this change is for students to speak with their instructors and representatives about how textbook prices have affected them personally.
Establishing the endowment should also clear the way for alumni and other donors to contribute directly to funding affordable textbooks at UConn, said Brian Otis, vice president for Principal Gifts at the UConn Foundation.
“The publicity has already been tremendous, there’s been a lot of dialogue,” Otis said. “It should lead to additional support and contributions.”
Affordable and open source textbooks have become an increasingly visible issue for politicians and philanthropists over the past several years, Dzurilla said. Earlier this year, the office of the Vice Provost secured a $100,000 grant to fund affordable textbooks for high demand STEM classes and the Connecticut General Assembly established a task force to develop open education resource incentives.
“This is an obvious way to directly support students, lots of students, and people are very aware of the high cost of education and the exorbitant debts that students are taking on right now,” Dzurilla said.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.