Nicole Allen, “Open Textbooks: A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Affordability”

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The average student spends $900 on textbooks a year, which is 26% of average university tuition, and 76% of average community college tuition. Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) conducted groundbreaking research in 2010, surveying 1428 college students across ten campuses on the cost of the ten most common college textbooks. Student PIRGs makes several recommendations on how to reduce costs for students, mainly, that by using open textbooks students can realize 80% savings.

Key Points

The issue of high cost textbooks emerges in part due to the lack of transparency in the process and in the end user accountability being waylaid by uninvolved middlemen. Publishers provide the textbook information to the administration or faculty who oftentimes  make selections based on factors other than cost. New laws, however, such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act, now require vendors to disclose textbook prices during marketing. Other tactics, such as releasing a new edition with minute cosmetic changes every 3-4 years, bundling curriculum packages and not selling textbooks individually, or engaging in “resale sabotage” by reselling items that have no resale value like a 180 day textbook subscription.

The existing marketplace is changing. Students can now rent textbooks in either hardcopy or digital formats. E-books and e-readers are also available, but many students still prefer a traditional textbook. Alternate models are currently emerging. Open-source textbooks are available online under an open-source license, provide free digital access, low cost printing and customization.

Student PIRGs found that textbook affordability solutions must satisfy a wide range of student preferences:

Therefore, the solution must reduce costs and appeal to a wide range of students, both of which open textbooks can accomplish. And it seems as though open textbooks can incentivize publishers to respect students as consumers.

The research recommendations includes the following:

Discussion Questions

  1. Students who prefer print text books cite readability/notetaking. How can open textbooks be more readable and conducive to note taking?
  2. Why are students choosing to rent some of their books?
  3. How can authors increase textbook relevance so students will be more likely to keep them?

Additional Resources

CK-12 Foundation http://www.ck12.org/

OpenStax College https://edtechbooks.org/-TDnE

Boundless http://www.boundless.org/

Open Textbook Library https://edtechbooks.org/-ft

College Open Textbooks http://collegeopentextbooks.org/

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