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The CSU's Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign

The California State University is launching a major campaign to drive down the cost of learning resources for students while offering greater access to no- or low-cost academic content for faculty. The campaign, Affordable Learning Solutions, builds on the rapid emergence of high-quality, digitally delivered content, and on the CSU’s long history as a national leader and innovator in this area.

In 2008, the California Bureau of State Auditor Report indicated that CSU students are paying $812 per year for textbooks, a significant percentage of students’ total cost for their education. The Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign will deploy a multi-pronged approach to ease the financial burden for students by leveraging access to high-quality online instructional materials that are free or low cost through its projects such as Digital Library Services, MERLOT, and the Digital Marketplace. These resources and tools will be integrated into customized campus campaigns that will help provide CSU faculty and staff with the information, training, and support to choose more affordable academic content. The goal of the orchestrated campus campaigns will be to make a CSU degree more affordable for students while protecting quality learning experiences for students.

A Tipping Point and Forces for Change

Higher education as a whole is at a “tipping point” for changes in the instructional content and learning methods faculty and students use to engage in quality education experiences. Within the CSU, as well as throughout higher education, significant changes are occurring in the pedagogy, business, and technology innovations for producing, discovering, marketing, selling, acquiring, managing, and adopting digital content. These changes are producing shifts from the extensive use of commercially produced, printed textbooks and journals to digital content produced by a wide range of non-commercial and commercial publishers.

The main forces for change currently include: (1) students facing significant economic challenges for completing their CSU degrees, (2) the significant and rising costs of new textbooks, (3) the growing availability of no cost, quality instructional content available on the Web, called Open Educational Resources, (4) the growing availability of lower-cost commercially published content available in digital formats, (5) new business models for paying for content that focus on economies of scale rather than individual purchases, (6) campus technology infrastructure and tools that are highly functional and capable of managing and distributing digital content for large numbers of students, faculty, and staff, (7) the availability of technologies that make it easy for students and faculty to discover, choose, and use digital content, and (8) students, faculty, and staff are developing the skills, expectations, and demands for using digital content for instructional programs. The CSU will be leveraging all these forces to produce more affordable and accessible instructional content for students.

Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign

The Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign will be the CSU’s strategy to reach its goals, and the campaign has four components:

Technology and support services for the easy discovery and delivery of no/low-cost instructional content for CSU faculty and students.

Custom campus campaigns that build on existing priorities and organizational services, provide extensive marketing and support services for faculty and students, provide professional development support and tools to empower faculty and students to choose lower cost alternatives, and recognize the achievements of faculty whose efforts and choices save students money.

Systemwide services that campuses can use to implement their local campaigns.

Simple and reliable tools for measuring and sharing success which will require faculty to submit their syllabi for review and sharing of how they are using no/low-cost content in teaching their courses.

The Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign will begin with a first wave of CSU campuses in the spring of 2010 as we identify and share “best practices” for scaling and customizing the digital learning support services for students, faculty, and staff. One of the first steps in the campaign will be to formally and reliably recognize those faculty who are already reducing or eliminating the cost of content for students. Assessing the baseline of savings will be important in assessing our strategies to reducing student costs. We expect a more complete systemwide launch of the campaign and the associated systemwide support services in the fall of 2010, with more substantial and pervasive benefits to students anticipated at that time.

Campus Efforts Underway

A few examples of CSU campuses preparing to launch their Affordable Learning Solutions are:

CSU Dominguez Hills is the leading campus on customizing the Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign for their campus. Under the President’s and Provost’s strategic leadership, the Library Dean and CIO are collaboratively planning and customizing their campus campaign in consultation with their Academic Senate, Associated Students, and other campus centers. With the renovation and expansion of their library, CSUDH library staff will be leading the implementation of the campaign and supporting faculty choosing no/low cost materials for their courses. Humboldt State University, CSU Bakersfield, and CSU Fresno are also interested in customizing their own Affordable Learning Solutions campaign.

CSU San Bernardino is the leading campus on evaluating the new search/discovery tools for easily finding the no/low cost content with a one-stop-shopping process. CSUSB leadership has conducted awareness seminars on no/low cost options for content and recruited faculty to engage in pilot testing of the licensing model for e-textbooks in 2010. CSUSB has constructed a survey instrument that would be used to determine the willingness of students to utilize the licensing model for instructional materials.

San Diego State University is the leading campus for integrating bookstore services within the Affordable Learning Solutions campaign. Aztec Bookstore and the SDSU library will be testing bookstore services for student payments for licensed e-journal articles and e-textbooks.

CSU Fullerton, CSU Chico, CSU Channel Islands, and CSU Stanislaus tested the innovative technology services for direct student requests and library purchase of copyright cleared articles not in the CSU Electronic Core Collection. The estimated saving for campuses is approximately 25 percent of current library costs. The technology can be used to create e-course packs of library materials in timely and cost-effective ways.

CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Bernardino, and CSU Dominguez Hills will be piloting the “License Model” for e-course materials that reduces the cost to 35 percent of new textbook costs. Five to 10 faculty per campus will be choosing the e-format for their currently selected textbooks and will require all students to purchase the materials. If students want a custom, low-cost printing of the e-textbook, they can request the bookstore to produce the custom print for an additional, small fee.

Many CSU campuses and their bookstores also provide used books, buy back books, provide rental programs on select books, and manage a book exchange, all of which save students money. In summary, CSU campuses are putting a variety of plans into action that will save students money on their instructional content.

Leveraging 10+ Years of CSU Expertise

The CSU has been an innovation leader in developing and delivering digital scholarly and instructional content for the past decade. Some examples of programs, projects, and services that can be leveraged by the Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign are:

The CSU’s MERLOT project(Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching at is a CSU-led worldwide digital library of over 21,000 free online instructional multimedia materials (e.g. simulations, tutorials, collections, animations). MERLOT is also a gateway to over a 100,000 free online course materials from digital libraries across the world (e.g., National Science Digital Library, Rice University’s Connexions project).

The CSU Digital Marketplace project  is in a pilot phase of providing technology services to support compliance with the federal Higher Education Opportunities Act, section 508 accessibility requirements, and California Education Code Section 66406.7 (College Textbook Transparency Act). The Digital Marketplace was recognized in the 2007 US Congressional Report, Turn the Page, and the 2008 California Bureau of State Auditor Report on Textbook Affordability as the strategic solution to many textbook affordability challenges.

The CSU’s Digital Library Services provides a baseline for every CSU student on every CSU campus with a systemwide Electronic Core Collection of e-journals and e-books, along with powerful and easy to use discovery and content management tools.


The CSU Affordable Learning Solutions Campaign will help provide CSU faculty, staff, and students the information, training, and support to choose more affordable academic content that significantly reduces the cost of education for students and enables a quality learning experience. It will be easier for faculty and students to make choices for no/low cost content and for faculty and students to be successful in their teaching and learning with more affordable content. Faculty and staff will be recognized for lowering the cost of education for students. Affordable Learning Solutions will leverage the CSU’s investments and integrate MERLOT, the CSU Digital Library Services, and the Digital Marketplace projects into coherent and easy-to-use collections of no/low cost resources and services. It will offer a growing set of technology tools and services that will enable campuses, faculty, staff, and students to lower the cost of content in scalable, sustainable, and cost-effective ways.

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