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PALSave Program Serves Faculty and Students amid Affordability Concerns in Private Higher Education

To address the financial pressures on families of students attending its colleges, the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana Inc. (PALNI) created its affordable learning program (PALSave), expecting to save students over one million dollars in five years. 

PALSave combats rising textbook costs at the twenty-four PALNI supported institutions using free materials like open educational resources (OER) instead of expensive commercial textbooks. Within its first year after receiving a grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., PALSave saved students $80,000 in 2019-20. Significantly more savings is expected as more faculty start using free textbooks. At this time, over 100 faculty members have enrolled in the Course Redesign Grants program to assist in the incorporation of the new learning materials. Year two savings is estimated to grow to over $305,000.

"The PALSave program supports faculty to adopt, adapt, and create affordable learning materials," said Kirsten Leonard, Executive Director of PALNI. "The five-year funding from the Lilly Endowment enables PALNI to make a real difference to student success and reduce debt by supporting the implementation of course materials that are free to students and customizable by faculty. The program benefits extend beyond the students of the twenty-four PALNI colleges and universities in Indiana as faculty at other institutions use our openly available materials." 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for access to affordable, high-quality electronic textbooks during this unprecedented time of remote learning. According to Inside Higher Ed, the pandemic and recession are driving increased interest in OER. PALSave supports this need by providing faculty the resources they need to identify and adopt zero-cost course materials. The program incentivizes faculty with stipends to write and post reviews of OER textbooks in their subject areas, and additional grants to redesign their course if the book is a good fit. 

According to US News, average tuition and fees at private colleges for 2019-2020 were $36,000 and showed a steady 3% increase.  Adding further pressure on Midwest colleges is the impending enrollment cliff, which forecasts a 15% decline in the number of college-age students by 2029, according to Nathan Grawe, an economist at Carleton College in Minnesota. One way private institutions can recruit and better serve students is to provide more affordable quality course materials. In addition to reducing costs for students, the PALSave program supports student performance and graduation success.  Preliminary survey data from PALNI institutions reveal that most students feel zero-cost resources help their studies and grades.

Amanda Hurford, PALNI's Scholarly Communications Director and project lead, states: "PALNI is taking a proactive approach to help students save money and learn better. We've been working to provide central support and lower barriers for our schools to get involved, which is important to PALNI supported institutions. Librarians and faculty have more to manage now than ever before."

The PALSave program will continue to grow over the next four years of the grant and beyond. In addition to continuing key initiatives such as providing faculty workshops and providing Course Redesign Grants, PALSave will obtain licensed content and fund the creation of new textbooks to support course transformation. Other plans include building the PALSave OER repository and providing opportunities for faculty, instructional technologists, librarians, to connect. Progress and impact will be provided and updated on the PALSave website.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders' wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. More information can be found at the Lilly Endowment Inc. website.