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Liberty University cuts costs with free textbooks for undergraduate online students

As a pioneer in distance learning, Liberty University has consistently increased and broadened its online program offerings while keeping education affordable for tens of thousands of students across the country and around the world.

This fall, the university is taking its commitment to affordability a step further by providing digital books and instructional materials free of charge to online undergraduate students enrolled in online undergraduate courses. The change affects over 700 courses and is expected to save full-time online students up to $975 a year. Across the university’s online program, the total cost savings could exceed $12.2 million.

“We know from student surveys that the expenses associated with textbooks create challenges for them,” said Connie Allison, executive director of the Center for Academic Development at Liberty. “The costs may cause them to take fewer courses, buy older editions, or even wait to get their materials weeks into the course. Providing free textbooks will not only reduce their costs but also will ensure that they have access to their materials on day one of the class.”

For textbooks that have no digital option, students will be provided physical copies at no cost.

“With the high cost of education at so many of our nation’s colleges, the goal at Liberty is to keep costs down so that students can see that we are being good stewards of their time, energy, and effort — it’s their investment,” said Scott Hicks, vice provost for graduate education (he will serve as interim provost starting in July).

Liberty has worked with four major companies to provide the free materials: McGraw-Hill, Cengage, VitalSource, and LifeWay. Liberty is also providing access to digital materials through the Jerry Falwell Library and open-educational resources (OER), free educational resources that are publicly available to all institutions.

“As partners with Liberty University, we know firsthand how their leaders embrace innovation to support the best learning experience possible for their students,” said Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage. “We applaud them for taking actions that will have a direct impact on affordability and access for their students.”

For 2018, Liberty was ranked in the top five of over 2,100 online colleges and universities for academic quality, affordability, and accessibility by BestColleges.com.

And as one of the nation’s largest nonprofit educators with about 95,000 students enrolled in online courses, Hicks said the university isn’t just focused on being competitive: “We want to add value to the student experience with innovative digital teaching tools.”

Liberty has implemented new technologies, for example, that can identify areas where students are struggling and give guidance as they study. For instance, students may see a prompt telling them to go back and read certain portions of the material again. Companies are working with Liberty to create systems that can meet the unique learning needs of each student.

“These technologies are helping us explore the best ways to teach a subject, or a specific topic within a subject, so that the student will not only learn, but retain what they have learned,” Hicks said.

“It’s called ‘learning science,’” Allison added. “We’re integrating assignments, offering checks and balances, and, hopefully, helping students do better in true learning.”

Liberty is incorporating this science into all of its more than 700 online undergraduate courses (120 courses already have these platforms). Eventually, all courses at all levels — on campus or online — will include these cutting-edge technologies.

Online instruction already includes innovative video and audio presentations and animation, adaptive quizzes and homework, and even digital flashcards. Other features include the ability to adjust fonts and lighting to make digital materials easier to read, as well as a text-to-read function, which is similar to listening to an audio book. Digital materials are becoming more popular because students can access them wherever they go; they never have to worry about forgetting their books.

Scott Virkler, chief product officer for higher education at McGraw-Hill, said the company is pleased to strengthen its partnership with Liberty in providing digital solutions that are designed with the flexibility that today’s instructors need to meet a diverse student population.

“Liberty’s groundbreaking approach to digital learning is making college education more accessible, affordable, and valuable for students,” Virkler said. “Using data to better inform students along their educational journey and removing barriers to learning is a vision McGraw-Hill shares. We’re proud to partner with Liberty to make our adaptive technology, content, and platforms easy to access for all students.”

Learn more at Liberty.edu/Online.


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