Like so many other undergraduates at Eastern Kentucky University, David T. McFaddin was a first-generation college student and a native of the Commonwealth. And when he arrived on campus from Paintsville, Kentucky, in 1996, the future EKU president experienced something else that so many other students both then and now can relate to—sticker shock over how much college textbooks can cost.

“He shares a story of moving onto campus and going to the bookstore with his parents, and his mom asking— ‘How much am I writing this check for?’ At EKU, we serve a high population of first-generation students, so they are coming into it with a more limited scope of what's involved when you think about the cost of college,” says Elizabeth Ballou, EKU’s assistant vice president for enrollment management. “We've heard stories from students who decided they had to change their schedule because they couldn't afford the books for a course.”

According to the College Board, the average college student spends more than $1,200 a year on books and materials. That kind of expense can become a barrier to a college degree and a better future—which is why EKU is eliminating it for the 2021-22 academic year through a “BookSmart” program designed to relieve the financial burden on students at a time when many families are facing an economic crisis.

“It's an initiative that is important and helpful for students when you're talking about accessibility to higher education and some of the financial barriers that a lot of students face related to that,” Ballou says. “When you think about the situation we’re in with the pandemic, a lot of families are facing financial hardships that they absolutely were not anticipating. This is just one more thing we can do to help address affordability for students who want to pursue a college degree.”

‘There is no catch’

BookSmart, designed in conjunction with EKU’s bookstore partner Barnes and Noble, will go into effect in the fall of 2021 and provide undergraduate students with free textbooks and other required course materials. The only program of its kind at a public university in Kentucky, the BookSmart initiative is available to students studying both in-person and online.

“Thinking of the scope and the landscape right now, we’re just trying to be as innovative as possible and looking for new opportunities to serve our students,” Ballou says. “We've been challenged internally to think big and come up with ideas that administration has to say no to. They're in a position right now where they want to say yes. We have a person who is our primary contact with Barnes and Noble, and we started speaking with them about it, and everyone was very excited about the idea.”

BookSmart is essentially a no-cost rental program—textbooks are loaned to students for the semester in which they’re required and must be returned to Barnes and Noble afterward. Students opt into the program through a website, and at the end of the semester, they have the option to buy the textbooks at a reduced price if they believe the books will be helpful to them going forward at EKU or in their careers. Books can be picked up or delivered to homes or residence halls and can even be highlighted or marked in as students use them over the course of the semester.

The cost savings inherent in the program can be significant for students and families, who often underestimate how much textbooks can cost. “A lot of them don't realize or recognize the cost involved in textbooks,” Ballou says. “So we're hearing from parents who are like, ‘OK, so what's the catch? This sounds too good to be true.’ But that's the best part—there is no catch. It’s as simple as it sounds. There are no extra fees, no hidden costs. This is just really an investment in our students.”

Core to the EKU mission

BookSmart is just the latest program implemented by EKU to help current and future students navigate the pandemic and its related economic effects. More classes have been made available online, and the number of fully online courses has increased. An emphasis on student health ensures campus areas are sanitized, and EKU community members practice responsible behavior such as maintaining social distance and wearing face masks.

And the EKU Advantage represents several incentives that help students maintain an affordable path to a degree, including the waiving of application fees, increased scholarship opportunity and tuition funding in exchange for a fixed percentage of future income. BookSmart builds on that trend, adding another cost-saving program for EKU students trying to maintain a path toward graduation amid an uncertain time.

“This is core to our mission,” Ballou says. “We’re always looking at ways to remove barriers for our students. Accessibility and opportunity are key to what we do. And so, as you talk to students and their families, cost always tends to bubble up to the top as far as one of their primary concerns. We take that feedback seriously and are looking for any way that we can to help students overcome those barriers and invest in them.”

Interested in learning more about Eastern Kentucky University, the BookSmart program, or other potential cost-saving incentives the school has to offer? Reach admissions at (859) 622-2106, fill out their online contact form, or visit their website at for further information.