Libraries initiative saves students millions in text costs

June 30, 2020

VCU Libraries' Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative supports instructors who  transition their courses to zero textbook cost courses, using either Open Educational Resources (OER) or library content. During 2019-20, the initiative began expanding its programs and directions of support, while continuing to grow its impact on the VCU community.

In 2019-20, the Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative impacted 11,557 students enrolled in 167 course sections taught by 132 faculty members, for approximately $1.25 million in student savings. Since it began, the initiative has saved students more than $3.5 million.


VCU Libraries awarded $43,500 to six new projects through the 2019 cycle of the Affordable Course Content Awards, which supports faculty adoption of zero-cost resources and creation of openly-licensed alternatives to expensive textbooks. Awarded faculty were from across the VCU community: Biology, Sociology, School of Education, Center for Sport Leadership, School of World Studies and School of Nursing. Faculty began working on adopting or creating free materials, and aim to implement these zero textbook cost versions of the courses in Fall 2020. The projects should save approximately 1,000 students $168,817 annually.

Awards from the two previous cycles of the Affordable Course Content Awards continued to expand their impact. In 2019-20, these 12 projects were used by 19 faculty in 11 courses, saving 2,686 students almost $400,000 in textbook costs.

VCU Faculty were also awarded a new statewide grant: the VIVA Course Redesign Grant. This program, through the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA), the state academic library consortium, supports faculty in transitioning to course materials available at no cost to students. In the second round of the program, awarded in December 2019, VCU faculty were involved in three of the 14 projects awarded. The three VCU projects were awarded a combined $57,820 out of $206,955 awarded this cycle. These projects were:

  • The Craft of Sociological Research: Principles and Methods of Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Social Science Data, a project out of VCU Sociology.  This project was awarded an Affordable Course Content Award in the 2019-20 cycle.
  • Teaching Cultural Anthropology for 21st Century Learners, a project out of George Mason University with a VCU faculty serving as a subject matter expert.
  • Biological Anthropology Open Source Textbook, a collaborative project between Emory and Henry College and VCU.

In the third round of the program, awarded in May 2020, VCU faculty led two of the 11 projects awarded. The VCU projects were the two highest awarded projects, receiving a combined $53,827 out of $130,538 awarded this cycle. These projects were: 

  • Interactive Family and Community Engagements OER for Teachers, a collaborative project between VCU, University of Virginia and James Madison University 
  • World Language OER Textbook Collaboratory, a collaborative project between VCU, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, and the University of Mary Washington. This project was awarded an Affordable Course Content Award in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 cycles.

Other Projects 

Working in partnership with the campus bookstore, the initiative matched required textbooks with unlimited-user ebooks owned by VCU Libraries and available to students for free.  

In Spring 2020, VCU also participated in a pilot through VIVA, through which VIVA identified additional titles on the bookstore lists which could be purchased for VCU Libraries as unlimited user ebooks and used as course materials. Through this pilot, VIVA purchased 55 titles, which were used by 49 faculty in 54 courses, saving up to $150,054 for 2,293 students.

Overall, the bookstore project matched 86 titles used by 69 faculty in 77 courses that could be used free by 4,639 students, saving those students $362,332.

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