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Affordable Learning $olutions

The official website of the CSUN AL$ initiative.

How to Reduce Costs



Reducing textbook costs for your course may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be! There are many strategies you can use to make your course more affordable, from adopting Open Educational Resources (OER), to utilizing textbooks available through the library, to digitizing course materials and embedding them directly in Canvas. This page will walk you through some of these cost-saving strategies and give you tips and examples to help you get started.

Don't forget, if you're ever unsure how to reduce course costs, the AL$ Team is always here to help!

Use Existing Library Resources

How do I do it?

Find subject-specific digital resources

Search in the Library's databases to find articles, journals, films, and other information sources you could assign to your students Ask a subject specialist librarian to identify other digital resources for your students.


Place textbooks on reserve

If your course requires that students purchase textbooks, especially expensive ones, it's always a good idea to make sure a copy of those print/digital textbooks is on reserve at the library. This ensures that all students have a way to access required course materials regardless of their financial situation. Visit this page to learn how to put course materials on reserve at the University Library


Embed Library digital resources to Canvas

In order for your students to access digital resources at the Library, you need to provide permanent links/persistent URLs to those resources. Check out this step-by-step guide to learn how to do it.

What are some examples?

Family and Consumer Sciences

In FCS 380 Family and Consumer Sciences Foundations and Research, Professor Yoko Mimura replaced a traditional textbook with course readings available through Canvas. Specifically, Professor Mimura replaced the history portion with scanned book chapters, philosophy with journal articles, and other foundations with professional organization websites and reports. Compared to the previous $82.50 textbook, she saved students 100% of textbook costs, totaling $4,125 EVERY semester.


Kinesiology, CADV, Health Sciences, etc.

By embedding library Canvas modules on APA citation, avoid plagiarism, and other research skills, professors from a variety of research method courses have been able to provide students with a more engaging learning experience. See what these modules look like and learn how to embed them.

Adopt an E-Book

How do I do it?

Work with your subject specialist librarian

The University Library assigns liaison librarians to all departments on campus to provide support for teaching, learning, and research. Ask a subject specialist librarian to help you find and/or purchase an ebook with an "unlimited use" license or other digital resources for your students.


Contact Campus Store

The Immediate Access Program, myCSUNDigitalAcccess, allows students to have access to their digital course materials on the first day of class at no cost until the add/drop date. Students make the choice of whether to purchase the digital content or opt out and purchase their course materials elsewhere. If they do not opt-out, their student account is charged after the opt-out date. Digital textbooks in these programs may be discounted 60% percent or more from print.

Also, CSU has partnered with major e-textbook publishers to provide course materials in a digital format at a 60% or more discount. Browse through the participating publishers websites from the CSU Rent Digital website

Contact Amy Berger or Robert Munck from The Campus Store for more information.

What are some examples?

Queer Studies

Professor Matthew Clements worked with CSUN librarians to identify which of his usual text selections for QS302 course are already and/or could be available as e-books via the CSUN University Library. In the instance(s) where an e-book is not available, he was able to identify an alternate text for current term that is available as an e-book. In a report of this adoption of ebooks, Professor Clements wrote that "students were hugely appreciative that I had made the effort to adjust class reading materials to be zero-cost... Having the books available as e-books reduced the disconnect that occurs in class on a weekly basis when students have not performed class readings. The zero-cost aspect is hugely meaningful for student finances; the boost to student learning is equally so." 



One of the leading textbooks within the field of Behavior Analysis is a two-part series costing over $400, APA Handbook for Applied Behavior Analysis. Given the cost of these materials, Professor Stephanie Hood has not been able to utilize them within her courses. In collaboration with CSUN librarians, she was able to have the library purchase this text as an eTextbook that would remain a resource for all CSUN students. Other professors can also utilize this resource with no cost to the students. She utilized this textbook in her measurement and experimental evaluation of behavior (PSY 553). Through participation in AL$, she reduced the cost for this class by 200% with an actual cost savings of $425 per student. 



By participating in myCSUNDigitalAccess as part of the CSU-wide immediate access program, professors from ACCT 441, BIOL 380, COMS 323, FCS 340, GEOG 321, HIST 370, and MKT 304 saved 960 students $76,100 in Fall 2018 alone. Students in those courses have access to materials in Canvas on the first day of class.


Adopt Open Educational Resources

How do I do it?

Browse our OER Guide

Check out our Open Educational Resources Guide, which includes sections dedicated to General Resources as well as Resources by Discipline


Consult the AL$ team or a Subject Specialist Librarian

Contact the AL$ Team to get in touch with an OER expert. If you already know a subject specialist librarian, you can also contact them directly for help.


Use Follett Discover in Canvas

The Campus Store provides support for faculty as they choose their course materials. Follett Discover connects faculty with educational materials beyond the traditional print textbook. Follett Discover searches through the following open resources:, MERLOT, Stanford and TED YouTube pages, Khan Academy, Coursera, and OCW Search. Follett Discover is uniquely tied to individual courses in Canvas.

Contact Amy Berger or Robert Munck from The Campus Store for more information on using Follett Discover.

What are some examples?


The textbook for General Chemistry I (CHEM 101) used to be expensive and bundled with online homework. The cost per student for the 2018-2019 academic year was $168.50. Professor Kayla Kaiser used OpenStax Chemistry for the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters along with her self-authored exam questions from prior years to create online homework in Poll Everywhere. The total savings for two sections of CHEM 101 was $25,292.50 because students were not required to purchase any course materials. 

Quotes from Fall 2018 students:

“Wish every chem taught this way... more people would be interested in science”

“I was given a free link to a chem textbook which helped me save money and time since it was a digital copy. This is my second time taking the class and I'm doing a lot better in this class than my last one.”


Queer Studies

When QS 208 was first offered, Professor Lisa Chaudhari was interested in running it as a no cost course to the students and participated in AL$. Due to the nature of issues in queer health (QS208) there is no one textbook that can be used and several compilations are not necessarily recent textbooks. Thus, any material purchased would be quickly outdated. She therefore decided to exclusively use OER for her course materials. Her students had positive remarks regarding efforts taken to make the course material available to them for free. Instead of being tied to one or a set of textbooks, she also feels she has the ability to tailor the material to the course topics and concepts. "In addition, I feel a responsibility for using a text when it is required as it usually is in a multi-section course. The course objectives and student learning objectives can be met more accurately or thoughtfully when utilizing OER."

Digitize Portions of Books

How do I do it?

Work with the library

Ask the library to digitize and upload portions of your textbook to your Canvas course within Fair Use guidelines. It is generally permissible to digitize up to 10% of a textbook and make it freely accessible to your students, but when in doubt, you can always ask a librarian. You could also have existing library materials scanned and placed in your Canvas course as well. Fill out an Instructional Materials Scanning Form to get started.

What are some examples?

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Professor Ruting Jia implemented AL$ in SP19 for ECE480 Fundamentals of Control Systems. Previous textbook was “Modern Control Systems”, Richard Dorf and Robert Bishop,12th ed, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13- 602458-0. Current materials are a combination of materials from OER, design examples annotated by the instructor, and digitized HW assignments from the previous textbook. Students saved 100% on textbooks for this course in the spring semester of 2019. The total amount of savings to date is $8,597.63. ECE480 is one of the core courses required for Electrical Engineering major students offered once per semester, sometimes even in Summer. The potential savings can be up to $14,230.56 per semester. 

Create Your Own Text

How do I do it?

Work with the Faculty Technology Center

CSUN's own Faculty Technology Center, including their team of instructional designers, provide support for faculty who are interested in experimenting with instructional technology, including the creation of e-text and digital learning objects.

Check the Faculty Authored Material Policy

Check out the Faculty Authored Material Policy to make sure that you make a reasonable effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest that could give students or the public served by the University reason to question the propriety of your professional judgments.

What are some examples?


From 2013 to 2015, approximately 70 faculty at California State University, Northridge participated in an eText Initiative, where they learned how to create eTexts for their courses. eTexts are digital teaching materials that help faculty customize content for efficient and effective learning and which often include multimedia, interactive exercises, and embedded links. Aside from improving instruction, eTexts help reduce the cost of books for students. Following the completion of this initiative, many faculty continue to produce original eTexts or digital course readers on their own or with the assistance of the CSUN eLearning Program.

See a virtual bookshelf of CSUN faculty-authored eTexts.



Peri Klemm is an art historian in the Art Department and a CSUN ALS mentor for 2015-6. She wrote an electronic textbook in 2013 for a lower division art history course (ART 112) through support from the CSUN e-text Initiative. It is now used without cost by 200 students each term in all learning formats. It combines text with images, videos, maps, music, and interactive assignments. Molly Enholm is an art writer, critic, artist and she has taught Art 110, Art 114, Art 315, Art 318 and Art 448 at CSUN. She began using online components a few years ago and has made her Art 315 course materials zero cost. 

Other Cost-Saving Strategies

How do I do it?

Place textbooks on reserve

If your course requires that students purchase textbooks, especially expensive ones, it's always a good idea to make sure a copy of those textbooks is on reserve at the library. This ensures that all students have a way to access required course materials regardless of their financial situation. Visit this page to learn how to put course materials on reserve at the University Library


Allow students to use older editions of your textbooks

Even going back just one edition can reduce the price of your textbooks considerably, and the differences in content are often minimal. You can either specifically assign an older edition of your textbook, or you can simply provide different chapter or page numbers for different editions, since publishers often rearrange chapters to make using older editions more challenging.



Still Not Sure What to Do?


Librarians are here to help! We can help you come up with a cost-reduction strategy and find quality, low-cost course materials.

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