There have been times when Talia Christian couldn’t afford her college textbooks.

The Northeast Lakeview College student would ask classmates to send her photos of the textbook pages she needed or find online tools to help her study, such as YouTube videos on the same subject. But that won’t be a problem next semester with the launch of a new, free textbook rental program offered by the Alamo Colleges District.

“This will help our students have one less thing to stress about,” Christian said. “It guarantees that every student will have what they need to be successful in the classroom.”

Through the program, all new and returning Alamo Colleges students will receive free textbooks and other course materials necessary for their classes for the spring and summer 2022 sessions. Called AlamoBOOKS+, the program is a collaboration between the college district and Barnes & Noble College, which will take over management of the five bookstores on Alamo Colleges campuses.

Alamo Colleges plans on using about $17 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to offer the free textbook rental program to its more than 65,000 students. The college district board will evaluate the sustainability of the program in the spring to determine whether to extend it beyond summer 2022, spokeswoman Denise Blaz said.

Calling the program a “first-of-its-kind initiative” for the college district, Chancellor Mike Flores said it will directly impact student success and “lighten the load on our students.”

“We’re providing universal access to educational materials,” he said. “We’ve done many things to remove the cost of education as a barrier, but we’re ensuring once students enroll, once they get ready for their classes, that the cost of a book or instructional materials is no longer a barrier for them.”

According to a 2021 College Board survey, community college students spend almost $1,500 per semester on instructional materials. Flores also cited statistics from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that stated about 66% of students forgo buying textbooks because of the steep costs.

During focus group meetings with Alamo Colleges students and faculty, students said they would sometimes drop classes if they couldn’t afford a book or work extra hours so they could buy a textbook, Flores said.

Alamo Colleges’ free textbook rental program, designed in partnership with Barnes and Noble College, will use about $17 million in COVID-19 relief funds to help students for the spring and summer 2022 semesters at all five campuses.
Alamo Colleges’ free textbook rental program will use about $17 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help students for the spring and summer 2022 semesters at all five campuses. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Each campus bookstore will order books based on how many students register for classes to ensure there are enough books, said Marc Eckhart, vice president of strategic partnerships for Barnes & Noble College. Students will receive an email before classes start so they can select whether to pick up their books or have them delivered.

Blaz said campus bookstores will work with students to return books and other course materials that are due back at the end of each semester, but she did not know whether they would be charged any fees.

St. Philip’s College student and Student Government Association President Valentin Morin said he hopes the college district makes the program permanent.

“I know a lot of students who can barely pay for their classes, and having to buy a $150 book is ridiculous,” he said. “This program is going to help a lot of people.”

The free textbook rental program builds upon Alamo Colleges’ “last-dollar” scholarship program for high school seniors who graduate from 36 participating high schools in San Antonio. Launched in 2020, the Alamo Promise program covers students’ tuition and fees for up to three years or until they complete an associate degree. About 3,000 students participated in the Alamo Promise program in its first year.

Additionally, the college district has used its federal COVID-19 relief funds to help address students’ needs outside the classroom, such as food insecurity, housing assistance, health care and counseling, board Chair Gene Sprague said.

“The district is consistently looking to alleviate the costs for our students,” he said.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.