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Considering Institutional Aid,Textbook Alternatives

In this track were sessions covering knowledge of program integrity rules, new technologies that can lower the costs of providing textbooks, and budget methodologies that can improve distribution of financial aid funds.

Not by Tuition Alone

In a climate where more and more families are in financial strain, students have increased financial need, and institutions have decreased endowment values, many institutions find themselves spending more on students while enrollment is down. In a session titled "Does It Really Matter If Institutional Financial Aid Is Funded?" Bill Hall, president at Applied Policy Research asked that age-old question.

Hall's session, which drew more than 300 conference attendees, showcased two private institutions with very different endowment dependencies as a source of revenue for the operating budget: Centre College, Danville, Kentucky (a small institution), and Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York (a comprehensive-doctoral institution). Using these two case studies, Hall argued that endowment dependency for funded institutional grants did not negatively influence the net tuition revenue collected by both of these colleges. 

Colleges and universities have never been able to operate on tuition income alone; philanthropy has provided a diverse source of revenue. However, Hall questions whether there is ever enough money for the typical nonelite private college or university to fully fund its institutional aid. As the panel noted, "Need is growing faster than donors' giving." 

The strategy at Centre College was to shift to an enrollment model to give a steady increase in the headcount and tuition sticker price. Hall advised attendees that headcount at their institutions "is more important than the delta in the discount rate," and that they should "get the price right for a given year so that the institution can operate at full capacity." 

As part of the presentation, Applied Policy Research included graphs for both colleges showing the discount rate, acceptance rate, and yield rate over time. When the dropping number of 18-24 year olds came up in discussion, Hall gave the advice to "moderate selectivity to boost demand.

"It's the strength of your market, not the strength of your endowment, that should dictate what you do with your discount," he said.

Do-It-Yourself Course Materials

Houston Community College, Texas, had reached a point at which the cost of textbooks was greater than the cost of tuition, so many students opted not to buy books, said Charles Cook, vice chancellor for instruction, HCC. That was a problem, since the college's emphasis—and state funding—was now based on student completion.

In 2008, HCC started studying student outcomes. "We had a discussion of academic freedom," said Cook. "Who owns the curriculum? The school owns it, but the faculty have freedom in how they teach it. However, we felt that publishers were driving the process of textbook development, rather than faculty."

Enter a new concept in digital course material delivery, as discussed in the session, "Open Educational Resources and the Future of the Textbook." Open educational resources (OER) are public domain course materials created by a community—and made available inexpensively through an intellectual property license that allows use and repurposing by others.

Joel Thierstein, associate provost at Rice University, described Rice's Connexions Consortium, of which he is executive director. Connexions, founded in 1999, is a pioneering OER site on which anyone may create, share, modify, or vet open educational materials.

"OER removes cost as a barrier for purchasing texts," said Thierstein. "It provides faculty with greater control over materials and inspires pedagogical innovation," since faculty members can personalize the material for their own use.

"OER is so much in the spirit of educational mission," added Brian Jacobs, founder and president of Akademos, a next-generation course materials business.

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