A number of Cal State Long Beach faculty members say they are opposed to the university’s planned Day 1 Textbook Access program, which will allow students to receive all their textbooks digitally for one flat fee per semester next year.

Professors have voiced concerns that they will lose their ability to decide whether their class materials would be offered digitally or in print, a lack of data on how equitable the program would actually be for students and a potential negative impact to students’ quality of education.

“It’s not about what I like or don’t like, … it’s about what works with students,” said Norbert Schürer, English professor and vice chair of CSULB’s Academic Senate.

The D1TA program, formerly known as Equitable Textbook Access, is set to begin fall 2024. It would cost full-time students $250 and part-time students $165 every semester to deliver all their textbooks digitally before the first day of classes.

This fee can be covered by financial aid, and students can also choose to opt out and purchase textbooks normally.

Faculty members who oppose the program have cited research that says, when reading from a screen, performance in regard to retention and comprehension is worse than when reading printed text.

Neil Hultgren, who teaches Victorian literature, supports professors that use digital materials according to their classrooms’ needs but prefers that his own students use physical books, in part to minimize distractions from electronics.

“I’m finding ways to get students off devices,” said Hultgren. “Charles Dickens on your iPhone is not something I want my students to experience.”

Pei-Fang Hung, a speech-language pathology professor and the chair of CSULB’s Academic Senate, uses technology and digital textbooks for her classes but has said she is concerned as to whether the program will actually be affordable for students. Hung also worries that incoming freshmen may also not be aware the program even exists in order to opt out.

Hung said D1TA needs to be revised or improved to make sure it supports students of color and those experiencing financial hardship, who make up much of the university’s student population.

She says faculty have also felt left out of conversations involving its implementation, said Hung.

“Students are not guinea pigs. Faculty are not guinea pigs,” said Hung. “Why don’t (they) slow down to see possible consequences or outcomes of this program?”

In response to some of this uncertainty, the university is currently engaged a 20-month-long awareness campaign ahead of the program’s launch next year. It will involve discussions with students, staff, faculty and administration, according to the Associate Vice President of Student Auxiliary Enterprises, Miles Nevin.

Nevin says that D1TA’s flat fee “removes an inherent inequity” by being set at a predictable rate. The decision to launch the textbook program was informed by national and state data from the Student Aid Commission, chancellor’s office and other sources, according to Nevin.

According to data from the campus, $125 is the average cost for print materials per class at the university. The university also cited the following statistics from a 2021 report, conducted by Student Public Interest Research Groups:

  • 65% of students have skipped purchasing required textbooks.
  • 82% of students who skipped meals due to the pandemic also decided not to buy required textbooks due to cost.

He also said students have a strong preference for digital materials, according to university data. According to Nevin, some 90% of purchases on campus currently are digital, and 42% of classes are enrolled in CSULB’s older Day 1 Digital Access program.

Many CSULB students could also have their textbook flat fee covered by federal and state grants, he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to do right by our students, and we’re trying to solve a problem for our students,” said Nevin. “And we know that this will do so.”

In response to the assertion from some faculty that learning from a print textbook is better, Nevin said that faculty never had the choice of the format of materials their students had to use.

“It’s always been and always will be the faculty’s responsibility and sole purview to select the particular textbook with its particular content. No one will ever dictate that to the faculty, but the student is going to be able to decide for him or herself how they best learn,” he said. The student will be able to decide if they want a print book or a digital book, and that’s how it works today and that’s how it will continue to work in this program.”

There are also faculty members on the board of Beach Shops, which the campus bookstore is a part of, and on the academic senate who support the new program, he said.

These mentioned members either declined or did not respond for comment.

Other universities have implemented similar programs, said Nevin. Cal Poly Pomona charges $250 a semester, and UC Davis, which was the first to launch such a program, charges $169 a quarter.

UC Davis has also faced backlash from its faculty.

An open letter signed by over 60 faculty members in February 2022 highlighted their concerns over their ability to teach with preferred materials and whether the Equitable Access program would equitably benefit students, sharing similar concerns as the faculty at CSULB.

“We entirely agree that textbook costs can be a serious burden on students and are committed to addressing that problem,” the letter said. “But … cost is not the only consideration that should have weight in our provision of learning materials to students.”

The Equitable Access program at UC Davis is still in place, despite their grievances.

The Academic Senate passed a resolution 34 to 18 opposing the textbook program on Thursday, but ultimately the decision lies within the university’s hands. Members of the senate hope to initiatie conversations with Nevin and Beach Shops moving forward, Hung said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with with more information about the Academic Senate’s resolution opposing the Day 1 Textbook Access program.

Maison Tran is a fellow at the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected].