Course marking helps students assess the cost of course materials

J. Christopher Brown, Vice Provost for Faculty Development
Friday, Dec. 4, 2020 12:53 p.m.
KU Lawrence All Staff, Faculty and Affiliates KU Graduate Teaching Assistants


Beginning with spring 2021, KU has adopted a new strategy of marking courses that have low-cost or no-cost course materials. This strategy aligns with a growing effort among higher ed institutions to provide cost information as secondary criteria students can consider when selecting courses.

We have all heard the challenges many students face when it comes to affording college. Some students work two or three jobs, while others skip meals or make other financial sacrifices to pursue their education. Hunger and homelessness among college students has been on the rise in recent years, and these challenges disproportionately impact marginalized and vulnerable populations: low income, first generation and students of color.

Beyond tuition and fees, textbooks can be a significant cost that some students struggle to afford. Reports indicate textbook costs have increased 1000% — triple the rate of inflation — since 1977. Students, faculty and staff representing groups and units across campus have advocated for and used a variety of strategies for reducing and eliminating the cost of course materials for these students.

What is course marking?

  • Beginning with the spring 2021 semester, the Schedule of Classes will show “no-cost” and “low-cost” icons for courses that meet those criteria.
  • This effort to help students who are struggling financially does not require any additional effort by instructors.
  • Course marking provides increased cost transparency and student agency to make informed decisions and plan for the upcoming semester. Cost of materials is only one of many factors students will consider when choosing their courses.

How will courses be marked?

The Course Marking project team worked within existing platforms and created a process to automatically mark courses based on material adoption information instructors already provide every semester to the KU Bookstore. The Schedule of Classes will display:

  • No-cost icon — classes bearing zero course material cost ().
  • Low-cost icon — classes with cumulative course materials cost less than $45 ().
  • No icon — The absence of an icon can mean any of the following:
    • Information about required course materials has not yet been provided;
    • The cost of required course materials is greater than $45; or
    • The course type is typically not associated with required course materials, such as discussion sections.

Why was $45 chosen for the low-cost threshold?

The threshold of $45 was selected based on KU student and instructor responses to a survey earlier this year asking what they considered the upper limit for affordable course materials:

  • The more than 2,000 student responses averaged $42.50.
  • The more than 300 instructor responses averaged $48.50.
  • The combined average was $45.50.

What was the process for implementing course marking?

This was largely a student-initiated effort, with the collaboration of several campus partners.

  • In academic year 2018-19, student body presidents from Kansas institutions developed and presented an action plan to KBOR, which included marking the affordability of courses.
  • In fall 2019, Tiara Floyd, then KU student body president, requested that KU explore a course marking project.
  • A project team was convened in fall 2019, including KU IT, KU Bookstore, Registrar, Student Information Systems, KU Libraries, Office of Accessibility, Kansas Union IT team, and the Enterprise Project Management Office.
  • The project team researched the issues and engaged stakeholders, including the Academic Systems Steering Committee, the Textbook Working Group, the Academic Change Management Committee, Student Senate, Faculty Senate and University Senate.
  • In September 2020, a proposal was presented to Faculty Senate Executive Committee (FacEx), the Academic Systems Steering Committee, and the KU Advisors Network.
  • Based on feedback received from these outreach efforts, including from faculty, substantial adjustments were made to balance stakeholder needs and perspectives.
  • The proposal was approved and last month the first courses were marked for spring 2021.

What can you do?

Instructors don’t have to do anything new or different to support this effort. The course materials information you routinely provide each semester will be used to automatically designate courses as low-cost or no-cost.

If you want to learn more about how you might adopt low-cost or no-cost course materials in the classes you teach, reach out to the Course Marking team at The team also is interested in your comments and suggestions for improving the program.

Learn more at



J. Christopher Brown

Vice Provost for Faculty Development