​​​The California State University (CSU) is committed to seeking new ways to foster student success and encourage students to graduate in a timely manner. One program that helps reach this goal is Affordable Learning Solutions​, which aims to ease the financial burden of paying for textbooks.

The program uses several strategies to provide students with affordable options for learning, and these options result in students saving $35 million annually. These include providing access to free online courses, e-textbooks and library resources, as well as greatly reducing costs through custom publishing and Rent Digital.

Affordable Learning Solutions also provides free or discounted course content for faculty to use in their curriculums, including commercial publisher content, library resources and a wide array of Open Educational Resources (OER). Faculty members are then free to choose which learning materials best fit their needs and the needs of their students.

The university runs the California Open Online Library for Education (COOL4ED), which currently offers free textbook selections for 52 of the most popular general education courses, made available through the CSU’s Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching ​(MERLOT). Each textbook has been peer-reviewed and is accompanied by an accessibility evaluation.

Richard Gearhart is an assistant professor of economics at CSU Bakersfield who has adopted and implemented a free textbook for his general education microeconomics course for undergraduate students. 

 “The main reason for the adoption of the textbook was to save students money,” says Gearhart. “An additional reason was that similar, higher-priced books with similar content were not superior to this textbook.”

Gearhart uses “Principles of Microeconomics,” a textbook by OpenStax​, a non-profit organization that produces peer-reviewed open textbooks. The book is available online at no cost, or for less than $40 in print through the CSU Bakersfield bookstore.
“The students love that the textbook is low cost,” Gearhart says. “They feel that the material covered is adequate, and that it covers all relevant material in the course.”

The CSU also aims to make free learning materials more accessible as well as raise student awareness of the classes that offer them. Last year, the university worked alongside legislators to pass a bill requiring that all CSU and CCC classes offering free learning materials bear a symbol or logo on the course schedule to better identify them. The CSU is currently working with its campuses to ensure that all classes will be properly labeled by January 1, 2018 for students to use when planning their summer and fall 2018 schedules.