In collaboration with the Associated Students of Washington State University, I recently convened a task force to explore the issue of rising costs of course materials, along with potential solutions and alternatives. The task force has submitted its final report to me, and I strongly endorse its recommendations.

Washington State University is committed to addressing the rising cost of higher education. Financial hardship is the number one reason students do not persist to earn their degrees. Unfortunately, increased tuition costs have coincided with higher costs for textbooks and other course materials. In fact, textbook costs have risen 1,000 percent—three times the cost of living—between 1977 and 2015. Students at four-year colleges in the U.S. pay $1,290 on average, for books and supplies each year.

Approximately two thirds of students report that they have opted not to purchase a high-cost course item due to its cost, even though 95 percent realize this may negatively affect their grade in the course. Others choose to take fewer courses, thereby delaying time to graduation. This situation is unacceptable to Washington State University.

The task force recommendations should positively impact students, while maintaining WSU’s quality standards. Recommendations include better communication with faculty and students regarding options and implications for textbook ordering, purchasing and re-selling. Further, as recommended, I will establish a course materials cost reduction standing committee representing WSU administrative, faculty and student interests, to continue to implement solutions which will decrease student cost. The committee will be charged with developing support structures for the increased adoption of open education resources (OERs), investigating the potential for a system-wide Quick Response System, and exploring alternative models for providing students access to course materials.

Task force members represented entities across the university system and all six campuses. I appreciate their efforts, and for all of our students, faculty, and staff who invested time and energy to search for solutions to this nuanced issue. Washington State University is committed to addressing the cost of public education in every way possible.