Skip to main content

Students see savings with Cornell Academic Materials Program

Students studying in library on computers

This past fall, the Cornell Academic Materials Program (CAMP) launched as a university-wide program providing Cornell undergraduate students with access to their required textbooks and coursepacks for a single flat-rate cost of $225 per semester. As the clock winds down on the academic year, CAMP program leaders are taking stock of its first-year successes as well as discussing where it can be improved for eligible students.

“The price is predictable for students,” said Brian Young, academic materials manager at the Cornell Store. “They know at most their materials are going to cost $225 per semester. And, if materials happen to be less for any individual student, we encourage them to make the best decision for them, as they do have the option to opt out of the program.”

At the beginning of the fall, this universal cost for materials looks to have been popular with the student body. Of the almost 15,000 eligible students, a little over 10,000 used the program the full term, which was better than anticipated by program leaders.

“We were planning on only about a 60% opt in for the first time around, so the numbers we saw were definitely great for us to see,” Young said. “We believe this initial success reflects the fact that students recognize the value of the program.”

As far as student savings for the academic year, an estimated $2.88 million was saved for all students combined, with an average savings of around $145 per student per semester.”

CAMP worked with financial aid to ensure if students were receiving aid, the CAMP fee would be covered as part of that support. In the past, the financial aid office did not have as much applicable data on how much students were going to spend on their academic materials. Now with CAMP’s universal fee, the financial aid office can figure the fee into their calculations for student aid so that it can be covered.

“Any leftover funds can now be allocated to other student expenses, such as housing or dining,” Young said. “That's a major advantage of having a flat rate fee – the price is not only predictable for students and families, but for the university itself, so we know where and how to allocate financial resources.”

Unlike a traditional, fully physical book distribution model, CAMP is a digital first program leveraging Canvas, a web-based learning management system, to provide electronic materials whenever possible, available for students to access no later than the first day of classes. This means students can focus on finalizing their schedule and getting settled without the added stress of evaluating textbook prices and worrying about how they will obtain their textbooks. Print copies of required materials are available under the program when no digital version is available, and the program works with individual faculty when and where needed.

Throughout the fall semester, Young said an estimated 40,000 digital materials and 18,000 print books were provided across campus to students, which is the equivalent to what would be previously distributed at Cornell for a whole academic year. The second semester saw an increase in the number of digital units over physical units, numbering 45,000 digital and 8,000 print. The sum of all materials provided to students throughout the academic year were 85,000 digital units compared with 26,000 print.

“We're having much more of an impact on the student body,” Young said. “We're reaching more students and providing more materials as part of the program than we have ever done in the past or at least in recent memory.”

There are many features that make these digital course materials and e-books more user-friendly and accessible for students than the digital options of the past. For example, students can make highlights, leave bookmarks, make annotations, and include audio options to have section read aloud, he said.

“We've heard from a number of students that they're very happy with the program,” Young said. “I believe the most appreciated benefit of the program is that they know what their bill is going to be at the end of the day.”

Supporting Cornell’s sustainability effort, most textbooks and coursepacks in the Cornell Academic Materials Program are provided in a digital format, which will eliminate thousands of textbooks from being printed and shipped from publishers to our campus each semester.

“We believe there was a significant carbon savings in using e-books, though e-books are not carbon neutral,” Young said pointing to electricity use in downloading, viewing, and maintaining the digital infrastructure in some cloud. “It’s not neutral, but it's much lower than printing a book, shipping a book, all that is involved in getting a book into the store.”

Moving into the future, the program hopes to expand the conversion of materials to a digital format to continue with sustainability and accessibility goals.

A key element of the program is that students can opt out one semester, and participate when it benefits them the next, ensuring that if materials are under $225, students are not left paying more than they require.

“This flexibility allows students to make the best and most cost-effective decision for themselves. When it’s right for them, the universal fee will be there, and they know that’s the maximum they are going to pay for textbooks,” Young said.

Learn more about the Cornell Academic Materials Program, including frequently asked questions on the CAMP website.