In past semesters, Cornell students have obtained their course materials from the Cornell Campus Store or accessed digital textbooks individually via Instant Access. But, beginning in the Fall 2022 semester, Cornell Academic Materials Program will allow undergraduates to access the majority of their course materials in a digital format, at a flat rate of $225 per semester.
All undergraduate students are automatically enrolled in the program, with the option of opting out by Sept. 9. Once enrolled, students will gain access to their required materials on Canvas by the first day of class. If no digital format of the material is available, students can pick up a physical copy from the Cornell Store or have the copy shipped to them.
As a result of the program, the Cornell Store will be eliminating in-stock print textbooks and materials for purchase going forward. Undergraduates who wish to purchase textbooks from the store can buy individual digital copies online or request an order for pick-up in-store.
While students enroll in Instant Access on a course-by-course basis, CAMP provides them access to the required materials for all of their courses that semester. According to Brian Young, Academic Materials Manager of CAMP, the program will serve as an extension of Instant Access, having drawn data from Instant Access during its design process.
Further instructions for accessing the digital materials and opt-out guidance will be available in early August.
According to Cornell Chronicle, the program’s developers consulted many University stakeholders, including students and faculty, throughout the design process.
“All students were invited to participate in two academic materials surveys in the fall of 2021 and the spring of 2022,” Young said. “These surveys gauged students’ engagement with course materials based on the field of study, how course materials were sourced, preferred format, average cost and any factors that influenced purchasing decisions.”
Xi Wang ’24, a student employee at the Cornell Store, works on the planning and logistics of the program. She said that CAMP also took inspiration from similar programs launched by other schools, like the University of California Davis, and read student discussions of the programs on their Reddit page.
“There has been a lot of information and student opinions on the program. And that’s also something that we take into account to see if we can make the program any better,” Wang said.
Still, some students voice concerns about the new program. Amerdeep Passananti ’25, who learned about the program from an email last week, questioned whether it offers a reasonable price.
“I’ve personally spent less than $250 on textbooks each semester, which means that if I were to opt into this program, I would have to potentially be spending a bit more money than I typically do spend,” Passananti said. “Most of my peers spend about $100 to $200 per semester on textbooks. But Cornell, in their email, did say the average price is about $650.”
In response to these concerns, Young said that the Advisory Committee cited data from College Board and explained that textbooks in some disciplines may have lower realized costs. Students can assess the disciplines of their courses and see if they may benefit from program participation.
Wang also said students could choose to opt out if the cost is comparatively higher.
“That’s why [the program] is not mandatory — you get the choice of opting out if you want,” Wang said. “I assume most people will calculate the cost of buying the books that they have to buy, compared to the $225.”
Knowing his own study habits, Passananti also wondered if the program’s digital-only option could cater to the preferences of all the students.
“A lot of my peers prefer to use paper textbooks. For me, when I’m studying late at night in my room, I prefer to use paper sources because they produce less glare and they hurt my eyes less,” Passananti said, “So it’d be cool in the future if Cornell could include paper options.”
According to the Program Advisory Committee, an all-or-mostly-print program would be unsustainable and significantly more expensive for students.
“This program is being launched after several years of many courses only using digital materials,” Young said. “The vast majority of course materials were digital in the 2020-2021 academic year due to remote learning, and 70% of materials were offered digitally in the 2021-2022 academic year even with the return to in-person instruction.”
Aside from his concerns, Passananti agreed that the program could help relieve financial inequalities, as financial aid will cover the cost of the program under the cost of attendance.
“One good thing [about the program], I do think, is that… students, on full or partially-full financial aid packages, get their entire academic fees waived,” Passananti said. “We didn’t think you’d get all the textbooks sent to you for free, so [it] really helps bridge the opportunity gap for low-income students by having financial aid to afford this.”
Hyung Ahn ’23 thought the program would help students adjust to the increasing prevalence of digital learning.
“I remember running to hand in printed assignments, something which would be incredulous today,” Ahn said. “With the advent of Zoom and online education, I think that a program such as this one, putting the financial matrices aside, is appropriate for the current style of learning, which places less emphasis on the study of formal literature such as textbooks and more on online resources.”
The program is in its first phase, which only offers access to undergraduate students. The Program Advisory Committee will alter the program based on its future performance. Possible adjustments include changes to the program cost and expansion to interested graduate and professional programs.
“As the program progresses under sustained enrollment, the goal is to improve the cost of the program for all participants, with higher participation rates ensuring more negotiation power on pricing from publishers and the lowering of costs for all.” Young said.