VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Affordable Course Content

What is Affordable Course Content?

Affordable course content describes any free, low-cost, or openly licensed educational resources that can serve as alternatives to high-cost resources. Affordable course content can include syllabi, course modules, textbooks, videos, tests, journal articles, assessment tools, and any other materials used to support learning.

While affordable course content is free or low-cost, it is not necessarily free of copyright restrictions or terms and conditions, so users must be sure to use and share the content only as permitted, or use open educational resources instead. Open educational resources are free of cost and most copyright restrictions, allowing them to be freely used, edited, stored, and distributed.

Why Use Affordable Course Content?

Textbook costs are high.

  • Textbook prices have increased at over four times the rate of inflation since 2006 (U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs. 2016. Covering the Cost.)
  • Undergraduates at four-year public universities are expected to budget $1,250 on average for textbooks and supplies in 2017-18. (The College Board. Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets, 2017-18.)

High textbook costs impact student success.

  • In a survey of students from over 150 campuses, 65% of students reported not purchasing a textbook because of its high price (U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs. 2014. Fixing the Broken Textbook Market.)
  • In a survey of more than 22,000 Florida college students, students reported that the cost of required textbooks had caused negative impacts on academic performance and time to graduation, including earning a poor grade (37.6%), failing a course (19.8%), and not registering for a course (45.5%). (Florida Virtual Campus. 2016. 2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey.)

Top Tips to Lower Textbook Costs

  • Adopt open, free, or low cost course content.
  • Search the libraries collections for any books you assign, as they might be available as e-books.
  • ​Place copies of course materials, like instructor copies of textbooks, in course reserves for students who may be unable to purchase them.
  • Explore library databases to find course materials, including e-books, online video, images, data, articles, and more.
  • Get your textbook adoptions to the bookstore as soon as possible. The earlier the bookstore has this information, the more used copies they can make available for students. The VCU Textbook Adoptions Policy sets the adoption deadlines:
    • Fall semester adoptions by April 1
    • Spring semester adoptions by October 15
    • Summer session adoptions by March 1
    • In the case of a late appointment of a course instructor, as soon as practical
  • Create a customized course pack instead of using a whole textbook. Barnes and Noble @ VCU partners with XanEdu to help faculty create customized print course materials. Materials can be a combination of openly licensed or copyrighted works--XanEdu helps faculty license permissions for copyrighted content. There is no cost for faculty to use XanEdu.
    • ​Visit XanEdu's faculty page for more information.
    • Get started with your printing by requesting customized support or by using the DIY customization platform.
    • Contact VCU's XanEdu representative, Barbara Robinson, at or (706) 540-4593 with questions and printing requests.