Textbooks and access codes financially burden students, university should adopt open textbooks

Becca Dietrich

The Rocket Staff
January 30, 2014

College textbooks notoriously break the bank of our nation’s youth and SRU students are no exception to that rule.

A survey released earlier this week by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs shows that 65 percent of student consumers have opted out of buying a college textbook due to its high price, and of those students, 94 percent say they suffer academically.

According to the survey “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How students respond to high textbook costs and demand alternatives,” college textbook prices have increased by 82 percent over the past 10 years, or at three times the rate of inflation. Textbooks are one of the largest out-of-pocket expenses for students each and every semester.

Despite the rise in textbook costs, that isn’t all students have to worry about today. The dawn of the ‘textbook access code’ age is upon us, making it extremely difficult for students to save money by buying books through other avenues.

In the glorious days of yore when print was the only option, students had a plethora  of cheap, or even free, ways to acquire textbooks. Students could use a copy from the library’s reserves, borrow one from a friend, buy a used copy for a fraction of the price or rent a copy through a company that provides that service, or even the campus bookstore.

But the latest and greatest of textbook enhancements require individual access codes to get to bonus materials online. And they’re threatening to displace all of student’s alternatives options. Most access codes only work for a limited time, like a semester, and once they are activated they aren’t usable by other students.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund suggested a solution to the rising costs of textbooks and classroom extras in their survey – open textbooks.

“Open textbooks are faculty-written and peer-reviewed like traditional textbooks, but they are published under an open license, meaning they are free online, free to download, and affordable in print,” according to the survey. “82 percent of survey respondents said they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook were free online and a hard copy was optional, which is exactly how open textbooks work.”

The survey suggests that open textbooks save students $100 per student, per course on average. We agree the savings could be, well, monumental.

Slippery Rock University should adopt an open textbook network campus-wide and begin to encourage professors to utilize these as viable options for students.

Campus administrators should consider an open textbook pilot program on campus. The University System of Maryland’s MOST Initiative is a positive example of how these programs are working for campuses across the country, and saving the students loads of money in the process.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund also recommends that faculty, on their own, begin to adopt open textbooks in their classrooms, utilizing resources such as the U. Minnesota Open Textbook library as a resource.

Textbooks shouldn’t cost more than tuition. We say open textbooks are more than a step in the right direction; maybe they are even a leap for mankind.

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