PCC Saves Students $1 Million on Textbooks

Portland Community College announced that their Open Educational Resources program has saved students more than $1 million on textbooks in the past two years.

In 2015, Oregon passed legislation creating Open Oregon Educational Resources, a program to help fund and encourage the use of open materials. To date, nine PCC faculty members have received funding from the Open Oregon program to adopt or create open textbooks. Perhaps even more exciting, at least a dozen other PCC faculty members have chosen to adopt open textbooks, without receiving funding to support their choice to switch.

Moving forward, PCC is hoping to take their OER program to the next level by saving students $3 million over the next two years.


University of Houston Announces Open Textbook Pilot Program

The University of Houston announced an exciting new pilot program to expand the university's use of open textbooks.

From the announcement by the UH Provost:

I want to share with you that the University of Houston has recently joined the Open Textbook Network (OTN), which supports faculty and student access to a large volume of free, openly licensed, peer-reviewed academic textbooks... As part of our partnership, OTN will provide on-campus workshops which encourage faculty to adopt the use of open textbooks in their classroom and review textbooks already in the library. All textbooks in the library are reviewed by faculty members at member institutions. I am planning to launch a pilot program in which 20 faculty members will receive a stipend to implement the program in one of their courses.

The University of Houston Student Government Association spent the last several months lobbying the administration to create this open textbook program. They first began investigating the high cost of textbooks last fall and discovered the existence of open textbooks. The SGA's Director of Research then dove into the issue, in search of everything he could find about open educational resources.

Based on his research, SGA President Shane Smith and other SGA leaders met with Paula Myrick Short, the university's Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. They presented her with their research on the issue and made the case for open textbooks. As it turned out, she had also been investigating open textbooks and was interested in the issue. The SGA members urged her to move forward with a pilot program, and within two months: she did!

Congratulations to the Provost's Office and the UH SGA for taking such swift action on this important issue!


Rutgers Wraps Up Open Textbook Pilot Program

Rutgers University announced the recipients of 32 faculty grants to encourage the use of open textbooks. This marks the end of the university's two-year pilot program to promote open textbooks.

Rutgers' Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) program awarded grants worth $1000 each to faculty members and instructors who chose to use open textbooks. The program is expected to save students an estimated $1.6 million in textbook costs over the next year.

The OAT program was implemented in response to advocacy by students and student groups, including NJPIRG Student Chapters. NJPIRG published a series of research reports on textbook prices which helped make the case for creating the pilot program.

Read more about the Rutgers program here.


UMass Survey Finds that Students Like Open Textbooks

The Open Education Initiative (OEI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides faculty members with support and funding to encourage them to adopt open textbooks for their classes. The UMass Libraries recently surveyed students who were taking OEI courses to get their feedback.

Students overwhelmingly supported the use of open textbooks:

  • 88% of the students surveyed felt that the quality of the open materials in their OEI classes were as good or better than textbooks used in their other courses.
  • More than half of students felt that by using the open materials, they were more prepared, engaged, and achieved the learning outcomes of the class.
  • 78% of students said they would enroll in another course that used open materials.

Students also reported that they found many ways to avoid buying expensive assigned textbooks in their traditional courses:

  • 50% had downloaded an illegal copy online.
  • 66% had shared a textbook with classmates.
  • 44% used an earlier edition of a textbook, rather than the newer version that had been assigned.

Learn more about the UMass survey here.


Big Progress by the Trinity SGA

The Trinity University Student Government Association has been making quick progress recently in their effort to make textbooks more affordable. Now they're on the verge of getting their university's administration to create an open textbook initiative.

After receiving feedback from students about the high cost of textbooks, the Trinity University Student Government Association (SGA) made this problem a priority. They created an ad-hoc committee on Open Educational Resources (OER), comprised of five SGA senators, to raise awareness about open textbooks and look for ways to reduce textbook costs. Their first big event, held in September 2016, was a "How Much Did You Pay?" tabling event (learn how to organize this event here), where students wrote down the amount of money they paid for textbooks that semester on a whiteboard and took a picture for their social media accounts. The event showed that Trinity students were spending anywhere between $300 and $900 on textbooks each semester.

Based on the OER committee's research, the SGA wrote a proposal for an open textbook initiative. SGA leaders shared the proposal with key administrators to ask for their feedback and support, including the University President, the Vice President for Student Life, and one of the university's librarians. In addition, the SGA received advice on their proposal from Nick Shockey, a Trinity alum and the Director of Programs and Engagement for SPARC, a leading group in the OER movement.

The SGA then submitted their proposal to the Trinity University Board of Visitors, a group of alumni and business leaders who assist the Office of Alumni Relations and Development and provide campus programs with advice, funding, and other support. After some initial positive feedback, the SGA is now in discussions with the Board of Visitors and the administration to design an open textbook pilot program for the campus. As the first step, Trinity is in the process of joining the Open Textbook Network and will work with OTN to introduce faculty to open textbooks through a workshop in the spring.

Trinity's story is a great example of how a student government can quickly launch a discussion about open textbooks and build campus-wide support.


New Study Shows Negative Impact of Textbook Prices

Florida Virtual CampusFlorida Virtual Campus, a statewide program which provides advising and resources to students at Florida's public colleges and universities, recently released a new study on textbook prices. The study is based on a survey conducted this spring of 22,000 students.

Their findings include:

  • More than half of students (53.2%) spent more than $300 on textbooks during the spring 2016 term, and 17.9% spent more than $500.
  • Textbook prices are harming students' ability to get an education. 66.6% of students reported that high prices had caused them not to buy a required textbook. Prices also caused 45.5% to choose not to register for a course, 26.1% to drop a course, and 20.7% to withdraw from a course.
  • 29.2% of students reported that their financial aid did not cover any of their textbook costs.

You can find the full report here.


Rhode Island Colleges Launch Open Textbooks Program

Seven Rhode Island colleges and universities have kicked off a joint project to expand their use of open educational resources. The program has a goal to save Rhode Island students $5 million each year by replacing traditional textbooks with open alternatives.

The participating schools include Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, and the New England Institute of Technology.

The program will be run by the Rhode Island Office of Innovation. They will work closely with librarians on each campus, who will be responsible for helping faculty members learn more about open educational resources. The program will then provide faculty members with grants and training to encourage them to explore the use of open books.

Read more about the Rhode Island initiative here.


OpenStax Books Help More Than 1.5 Million Students

OpenStaxOpenStax, a publishing company based at Rice University, recently announced that more than 1.5 million students have used their open textbooks. They estimate that their books will save students $70 million during the current academic year.

OpenStax publishes some of the most popular open textbooks available. They offer 25 open titles in a wide range of subjects, including biology, chemistry, physics, math, economics, psychology, American government, and history. This year, they expect their books to be used in more than 4,500 courses at 2,688 colleges and high schools.

OpenStax's success is a prime example of the potential of open textbooks. Their books are written by top experts, beautifully designed, and targeted at the types of courses that normally have the most expensive textbooks. OpenStax's rapid spread is further proof that the demand for open textbooks is real and growing.

Read more about OpenStax's announcement here.


Access Codes Provide New Way to Profit Off Students

Access DeniedEarlier this week, the Student PIRGs released a new report on the growing use of access codes in college classrooms. These codes, which are marketed to professors as useful tools for improving the educational process, in fact also serve to maximize profits for textbook publishers.

Access codes are serial codes that allow students to unlock a digital learning suite - a web-based program that includes e-books, pre-made homework assignments, quizzes, tests, educational videos, and other multimedia content. It is becoming commonplace for professors to assign these learning suites as required course materials for their classes.

Publishers market these learning suites as cost-saving tools for students and time-saving tools for professors. However, in reality, forcing students to buy the access codes to these suites puts students in an even worse financial position.

With textbooks, students have options for how to minimize their expenses - they can buy a used book, they can rent the book, they can share the book with a classmate, they can check out a copy from the library, and so on. However, access codes have no such flexibility. Students have no choice but to buy any access code that has been assigned to them - without the code, they can't access the homework, quizzes, or tests they need to pass the course. In addition, access codes are personalized and only last for the length of the course, so it's impossible to share them, sell them used, or do anything else to reduce the cost.

It's not surprising that textbook companies have invented a new way to make money off students. Students have become increasingly clever at finding ways to avoid paying full price for textbooks. With access codes, publishers have invented a resource that students can't help buy, and at full price. It's a great deal for publishers looking to boost profits and expand market dominance, but it's a bad deal for students.

The rise of access codes is just one more reason why we need to invest in open textbooks and other open educational resources.

You can read the full report on access codes here.


Community Colleges to Create Textbook-Free Degrees

Nonprofit group Achieving the Dream announced that they will be giving out $9.8 million in grants to fund the creation of textbook-free degree programs at 38 community colleges in 13 states.

The participating colleges will create degree programs in business administration, general education, computer science, and social science that rely entirely on open-source educational materials.

Read more about this story at the Washington Post.