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Adoption of no-cost text options by the Department of Rhetoric and Language for Core A courses could save University of San Francisco students up to $250,000 per year. The cost of new, bookstore-purchased textbooks for a USF student taking the most common or “normative” path through Core A (RHET 103, RHET 110/N, RHET 120) averages $316.14. Textbooks costs vary widely and are highly unpredictable: the most expensive sections can have more than 300% higher costs for books than the least expensive. A student landing in the most costly sections would spend up to $492.50 on texts required for the “normative” path ($176.36 more than the average). Costs are unevenly distributed, partly due to high variation between sections, and partly due to an unfair impact of placement practices.

  • Students with the highest SAT scores have the lowest textbook costs. USF uses SAT scores to place students into RHET 130/131, a two-course sequence that fulfills Core A1 and A2. Students in this track would spend an average of $199.15 to buy new textbooks necessary to fulfill Core A. SATs are highly correlated with family income and family level of education; effectively, the most privileged students at USF have the lowest Core A textbook costs (see Appendix 2).
  • Vulnerable students placed in pre-RHET 110 courses have higher textbook costs. In Spring 2018, the mean cost of new required textbooks in RHET 106/N was $80.44 (max $105.50; min $71.50). For a student placed in RHET 106 and unlucky enough to land in expensive sections, new Core A textbook costs would be almost three times higher than the cost for the average RHET 130/131 student.


This report summarizes work funded by a 2018 Gleeson Library OER Faculty Grant.