Several people in a newsroom

Alyxx Melendez, an English major, stands in line at the UC Davis Bookstore and checks prices online.

Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

All Access

by | Jan 8, 2020 | Fall/Winter 2019-20, What's Next

Textbooks and supplies for one year at UC Davis cost about $1,136. A new program seeks to revolutionize how students get and pay for course materials — and it could halve that annual price tag.

Piloting in fall 2020, Equitable Access will give students digital access to course materials for a quarterly flat fee payable with financial aid, tentatively set at $199. It aims to address inequity from variable textbook costs. Other schools are also addressing the issue: California State University, Channel Islands, houses three majors — early childhood development, communications, and health sciences — using only free online resources for materials.

Jason Lorgan, executive director of Campus Recreation, Memorial Union, and UC Davis Stores, is pioneering the new model at UC Davis, as well as its current textbook model, Inclusive Access, under which publishers offer discounted digital textbooks for students opting in. For STEM courses like calculus, a new textbook can cost $265. Inclusive Access offers one for $90.

Still, data shows students look elsewhere for deals or forgo books altogether. “For classes where books were too expensive, I didn’t get them. I felt disadvantaged compared to people who could afford them,” said Dennis Pimentel-Ruiz, a fourth-year managerial economics major and technology management minor. He sat on the program’s steering committee, composed of students whose perspectives informed Lorgan’s direction.

Equitable Access will be available to all undergraduates. The program’s quarterly fee model emulates the Unitrans and mental health fees, which all students pay. Students who regularly pay more — like those buying high-cost STEM books — would spend less.

“The program levels the playing field,” said Aleasha Jhanjar, a fourth-year psychology major.

But Pimentel-Ruiz said students were concerned the program would cost more than their books. Equitable Access does have an opt-out option, though the steering committee initially campaigned for the program to be mandatory. “They said, ‘If Unitrans had an opt-out, we’d opt out during fall and spring when the weather’s nice. We’d pay in winter, but then the system would go bankrupt and we couldn’t pay for the buses,’” Lorgan recounted.

The program also will benefit professors, because learning can stall while students buy textbooks, added Jhanjar. It also creates flexibility for students. “If you want to pay $300 or scour the internet for textbooks, you still can,” said Lorgan.

And Pimentel-Ruiz said he believes the program can have a big impact. “Three hundred dollars goes a long way for me when I also worry about rent and food,” he said.