Students discussing a book

Marking Affordable Courses at KU

Marking "affordable" courses increases cost transparency and provides students with the ability to better plan for course material costs. Affordable course markings at KU were first implemented in Fall 2020 for the Spring 2021 semester.

What is an Affordable Course?

Affordable is shorthand for courses that exclusively use no-cost ($0) and low-cost (less than $45) resources as required course materials. "Course materials" are defined as textbooks, workbooks, homework systems, and other learning content. Technology and supplies are not included in this definition, and are not addressed by this initiative.

What is Course Marking?

Marking course sections that use no-cost and low-cost materials is a growing part of the college and university affordability landscape.

Marking affordable courses has been legislatively mandated in seven states since 2015, including Oregon, California, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, & Louisiana. Many other institutions, including Kansas State University and Pittsburg State University in Kansas, have implemented affordable course markings or are in the process of doing so as a matter of policy.

At KU this effort is supported by KU Student Senate as well as KU IT, KU Libraries, Student Information Systems, the Office of the University Registrar, KU Bookstore, and others.

Why Mark Affordable Courses?

Marking affordable courses provides greater transparency, enabling students to make more informed decisions at the point of course selection and enrollment. This aligns with the textbook provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (codified at 20 U.S.C. 1015b), which requires institutions receiving federal funding to provide course material costs to students for the purpose of registration, “to the maximum extent practicable.”

How Courses are Marked

Courses identified as those using no cost and low cost course materials (excluding technology & supplies) will therefore be marked in two places: and Enroll & Pay. The Enroll & Pay markers are textual: No Cost and Low Cost.

The markers are visual, using simple icons designed by KU IT, which appear in the Credit Hours column.

no cost icon

The No Cost icon is a blue book marked with a white zero “0”. A course marked with the No Cost icon has zero required course material costs.

low cost icon

The Low Cost icon is a blue book marked with a white capital letter “L”. A course marked with the Low Cost icon has a cumulative required course material cost of less than $45.

The absence of an icon can mean any of the following: information about required course materials has not yet been provided; information about required course materials has been provided but not yet processed and updated to reflect the marking; the cost of required course materials may be greater than $45; or the course type is typically not associated with required course materials, such as Discussion (DIS) sections. Types of courses marked and not marked are listed in the FAQ. In some circumstances, materials may be required despite the lack of an icon, such as if an internship includes required books or other materials.

The Icons as They Will Appear in the Schedule of Classes

Screen capture from showing Low Cost icon and unmarked courses
Example provided for illustrative purpose, not necessarily to reflect reality


Course materials are defined as primary required teaching and learning content:

  • textbooks and their equivalents, including literary texts
  • digital learning platforms
  • homework systems, etc.

Other technology and supplies are not considered course materials for the purpose of course marking, such as:

  • clickers
  • lab safety gear
  • art supplies
  • required software
  • professional organization memberships
  • required calculators and other technology, etc.

In other words, a course that requires a clicker or lab safety gear can still be marked as an affordable course if it utilizes otherwise free or low cost material.

Recommended materials are not addressed by this project.


Marking affordable courses first came online in Fall 2020 for the Spring 2021 course enrollment period.

Due to overlapping timelines for instructors to report their material adoptions and active enrollment, courses will be marked according to the best information available. In other words, markings are subject to change as new information becomes available.

A course section without an icon may become a No Cost or Low Cost section if the instructor reports adoption of no or low cost materials. Similarly, it’s possible that a course marked as no or low cost could lose that designation if the adoption changes, for example due to changing instructors and late course assignments.

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