Open Textbooks Gain in Push for College Affordability

Michael Melia | eCampus News | February 19, 2016

The standard textbook for Fundamentals of General Chemistry I at the University of Connecticut has a list price of $303. For students who use the version professor Edward Neth is preparing for the fall semester, the cost will be zero. An early adopter of open source textbooks, Neth said he turned to the new technology out of frustration with spiraling prices of commercial textbooks. “It’s seeing the costs go up every semester and almost feeling powerless,” Neth said.

Universities and state governments are lining up behind the cause as a way to make college more affordable. The open textbooks, produced with publicly available material, are issued to students for free or a small fraction of the hundreds of dollars they typically spend annually on books. The movement has made rapid gains over the past year, often driven by students, such as UConn activists who sparked a campaign that led to state legislation last year endorsing open-source materials.

But commercial texts won’t go the way of chalkboards anytime soon. Proponents say hurdles include awareness among faculty members and the still-limited availability of material for courses that go beyond introductory levels. The driving concern has been costs so high that many students report skipping some book purchases. The annual cost of books and supplies for a college student is about $1,200, according to the College Board, and a survey released this month by the Student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) advocacy group found 30 percent of respondents used financial aid to buy books...