Affordable Textbooks

This post is guest-authored by Lea Wade, STEM Librarian, University Libraries, and member of the Textbook Affordability Task Force of the Washington Research Library Consortium.

Textbook costs are increasing. Since 1977, college textbook prices have risen over 1,000 percent.

Vox had a recent article on how much students spend on textbooks, and what publishers are offering to do to help. Over two-thirds of students skip buying or renting some required texts because they can’t afford them.

University and college students are estimated to spend $1,240 dollars on books and supplies at the average full-time private four-year college in 2018-2019 (College Board, 2019).  That’s an increase from the average 2017-2018 cost of $1,220 at private colleges. Textbooks at public colleges are estimated to cost more: in 2017-2018 the average cost was $1,250 (Collegedata), and in 2018-2019 the estimated cost is $1,298 (College Board).

The cost varies from course to course – generally, prices for textbooks in the sciences and analytical studies such as accounting are much higher than in the humanities. At Catholic University, the most expensive textbooks cost $446 for an accounting textbook to $396 for an Italian language textbook with the accompanying online access code. When the course requirement includes paying for an online access code, students do not have the option of renting or buying a used textbook. In those cases, students may resort to sharing with a friend or doing without the required online access. Other students may drop out altogether if they cannot afford the required textbooks.

Student success and retention have been demonstrably improved through transition to affordable textbooks (Winitzky-Stephens, 2017; Hardin, 2018).

Libraries and colleges can work together to reduce the burden of textbook pricing on students. The Catholic University of America University Libraries is leveraging its membership in the Washington Research Libraries Consortium to examine options. One option is expanding textbook access through library reserves. Another is expanding the use of Open Educational Resources, or Open Textbooks. A recent report from the Public Interest Research Groups has laid out some options for resolving the problem by embracing Open Textbooks.

“Open Educational Resources (OERs) are teaching, learning, and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OERs can be textbooks, full courses, lesson plans, videos, tests, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge.”Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition. 

OER involves replacing textbooks with openly licensed and easily accessible documents and media. With OER textbooks, students have access to the text online at no cost. Faculty can be assured that if students do not read the assigned text, it is not because they couldn’t afford the text.

Some universities are providing grant funding to faculty who agree to refocus their courses to include the use of OER. Even more funding is often provided to faculty who write an open textbook. Years of advocacy for open educational resources has begun to move the needle toward greater acceptance. Student Public Interest Research Groups have released an action plan for universities and faculty to help relieve the burden of textbook cost. An associated student-led campaign, the Open Textbook Alliance, provides simple handouts and guides on open textbooks.

Your subject liaison librarian can help you identify free open-source textbooks if you are wondering what is already available. There are several online open repositories of textbooks that are free and available to use for your research and coursework.

If you are wondering what is already available, there are several online open repositories of textbooks that are free and available to use for your research and coursework.

Some OER Repositories include the following sites:

You can learn more about what other campuses are doing to improve student success by reducing textbook cost burden from this article [Espocito, J. The Coming Wave of Affordable Textbooks [https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/11/19/the-coming-wave-of-affordable-textbooks/], November 19, 2018].

 

Recommendations

  • Students should directly advocate for open textbook use in their classrooms.
  • Faculty should consider adopting open textbooks in their classrooms. They should check the U. Minnesota Open Textbook Library to see if there’s a book available for your class.
  • Campus administrators should consider creating an open textbook pilot program on their campus. They can see the University System of Maryland’s MOST Initiative as a sample.
  • State and federal legislatures should invest in the creation and development of more open textbooks. See Washington State’s Open Course Library as an example.
  • Publishers should develop new models that can produce high quality books without imposing excessive prices on students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share this:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Leave a Reply