Libraries program saved Husker students $1.7 million in first two years

· 5 min read

Libraries program saved Husker students $1.7 million in first two years

Aerial photo of Love Library cupola, facing northwest
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
From spring semester 2022 through January 2024, the Libraries Course Materials program provided an estimated savings of $1.7 million to students.

Not having access to course materials correlates with lower performance and college completion rates, key metrics for student success. To address the challenge, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Libraries launched a program two years ago to expand students’ free access to course materials and books.

From spring semester 2022 through January 2024, the Libraries Course Materials program provided an estimated savings of $1.7 million to students.

Liz Lorang, dean of University Libraries, said the program is a key piece of a campuswide initiative, Successful Teaching with Affordable Resources. The STAR initiative began in 2019 and is sponsored by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor. Partners include University Libraries, Information Technology Services, Academic Technologies, Academic Affairs and the Center for Transformative Teaching.

“One way the Libraries keeps costs down for students and ensures that they have access to quality learning materials is purchasing e-books with unlimited user licenses,” Lorang said. “These licenses mean that all students in a course — and all users of the UNL community, in fact — can use the book simultaneously. This option makes it possible for instructors to use Libraries-purchased e-books in their courses, and the e-books are available to students directly through their online course portals by day one of the courses.”

According to the leaders of the Libraries Course Materials program — Melissa Gomis, associate professor of practice and teaching and learning librarian, and Catherine Fraser Riehle, associate professor and teaching and learning librarian — for Nebraska students the average cost of an item on a course reading list is $75. Using this figure, they calculated the estimated $1.7 million in savings over two years.

“More than 6,000 items have been provided by the Libraries to more than 23,000 students enrolled in 600-plus classes using Libraries Course Materials lists,” Gomis said.

While students save significant amounts of money, new expenses shift to University Libraries because an unlimited license e-book is more expensive than a traditional e-book. The benefits for students, however, are significant, and the Libraries is seeking ways to invest even more in unlimited license materials.

Tom and Candy Henning stand in front of autumn leaves.
Tom and Candy Henning

Toward that end, the Libraries made affordable course materials a priority as part of Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future, a historic effort to engage at least 150,000 benefactors to give $3 billion to support University of Nebraska students, faculty, academic and clinical programs and research to address the needs of the state. Student access and success is the top campaign priority.

The volunteer co-chairs of the Libraries Campaign Committee, alums Tom and Candy Henning, recently pledged an undisclosed gift through the University of Nebraska Foundation to acquire more unlimited licenses to expand the initiative to more courses, thus reducing students’ financial burden.

Through their work on the Libraries Campaign Committee, the Hennings learned about the high cost of course materials for students, including how less affluent students sometimes must choose between purchasing food or buying books and other resources for their classes.

Tom Henning said an investment in the Libraries Course Materials program resonated with the couple because of how it could positively impact students.

“Whether you came from an affluent background or not, you wouldn’t be disadvantaged relative to having the textbooks you need access to in order to do your studies,” Tom Henning said.

The Hennings’ investment will have a multiplier effect that ultimately assists nearly every student on campus. The University Libraries retains the title in perpetuity for use in future courses and by anyone at UNL at any time. For many students, the savings will mean less student debt and more opportunities to be successful in class.

The Hennings have a long history of supporting the University of Nebraska–Lincoln since their first gift to the University Libraries in 1977, kicking off four decades of support. The Hennings are trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation and active members of the business community, and they have volunteered their time to the university and local civic organizations by serving on leadership boards.

“The Hennings have been great friends and supporters of the Libraries for decades, and we are grateful for their support of this program and hope it will inspire others,” Lorang said. “Data show that their investment in Libraries Course Materials is yielding a great financial and educational return, and Nebraska students are benefiting from the Libraries’ purchase of materials with unlimited licenses.”

Gomis and Riehle are working with the office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics to create a public, online dashboard to communicate the program’s progress. The Libraries Course Materials program is expected to expand this fall, with new features enabling all instructors to create their own lists in Canvas, the online class portal, without first connecting with Libraries staff.

“We want to increase access in Canvas, make the tool more visible to more instructors, and, of course, provide course materials savings to even more students,” Gomis said.

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