University System of Maryland Enters Open Access Pilot

Posted April 11th, 2014 in News by Alexander

Since the start of the spring 2014 semester, the University System of Maryland began to conduct a textbook pilot program to reduce textbook costs by using open access materials. The pilot program is a recent strategy of the University System of Maryland to enhance and expand their online learning offerings, while trying to save students money. Their method is to redesign courses with a stronger web presence and open access materials, and using class time specifically to focus on discussion.

The university system estimates the pilot saving 1,100 students a total of $130,000 over the semester. The participating universities within the system include the University of Baltimore, Bowie State University, Copping State University, Chesapeake College, and St Mary’s College of Maryland.

The pilot program stems from a partnership with Lumen Learning, a Portland, Oregon-based company that helps instructors access and evaluate open access content, tests, graphics, and other materials for course adoption. Through grants, Lumen Learning is providing this service for free to the Maryland system, along with 19 other universities nationwide.

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Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Encourage the Adoption of Etextbooks Nationwide

Posted March 28th, 2014 in News by Alexander

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene recently introduced bipartisan-supported legislation in Washington, DC to encourage the use of low-cost or open access digital course materials in higher education. The legislation, termed the E-BOOK Act (Electronic Books Opening Opportunity for Knowledge), aims to develop pilot programs at public institutions across the United States in an attempt to increase access to digital content, expand the availability of e-readers for low-income students, and encourage instructors to adopt emerging learning technologies into their courses.

If the E-Book Act is passed, it would give permission to the Department of Education to award $20 million in grants to establish the pilot programs. The expansion of access to the newest and emerging learning tools will provide college faculty and administrators with the ability to improve learning outcomes and save their students hundreds of dollars on textbooks.

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Washington Students Push for Open Access

Posted March 12th, 2014 in News by Alexander

As the prices of textbooks continue to rise, Washington college students are organizing to push professors into adopting more open access textbooks. The goal is to provide faculty with the option of free or low cost textbooks and create competition with publishers, who may respond by lowering their prices.

Recently, the University of Washington Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution encouraging professors to consider using open access textbooks and other less-expensive materials. The resolution does not require professors to choose open access materials; however, it will provide them with information and assistance.

At Tacoma Community College, students voted to use student funds for a pilot project to assist professors in identifying online materials suitable for textbook substitutions. The college’s student government hired an OER (open educational resource) specialist to help professors find low-cost or free alternatives to traditional textbooks.

The Tacoma pilot project, currently in its second year, is regarded as a success by the college. Within its first nine months, it was able to pay for itself through student savings. College officials have estimated that the project has saved students around $643,000 in total.

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Student PIRGs Releases a New Report About the Effects of Expensive Textbooks

Posted February 13th, 2014 in News by Alexander

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund and Student PIRGs recently published a report describing the continued effects of high textbook prices on students and higher education, indicating that students may be interested in alternatives to the traditional textbook.

During the fall of 2013, Student PIRGs surveyed 2,039 students from 150 universities. The results from the survey showed that the high cost of textbooks is deterring students from purchasing their assigned materials, despite a potential negative impact on their grades. 65% of the students reported that they did not purchase a textbook because of the cost. Out of those students, 94% were concerned about the impact on their grades.

The survey showed that the high cost of textbooks has a ripple effect on students’ other academic decisions. Almost half of the students reported that the cost of textbooks impacted the number and types of classes they enrolled in each semester, which may limit the scope of their academic progress and increase the overall length of their education.

Traditional textbook alternatives, such as open access, were popular among students. 82% of the students perceived that a free online textbook (with an optional hard copy available for purchase) would have significantly improved their performance in the course.

The study concluded that the high costs of textbooks will continue to be a problem for students if textbook alternatives are not offered alongside traditional options. Open access textbooks must be adopted on a national scale if the prices of traditional textbooks remain the same or continue to increase.

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University of Utah Explores Open Access Textbooks

Posted January 24th, 2014 in News by Alexander

According to the American Enterprise Institute, textbook costs have increased by 812 percent since 1978. At the University of Utah, the average cost of textbooks and supplies for students is about $1,000 a year, on top of $7,000 of in-state tuition fees.

Understanding the financial barrier of a higher education, the new University of Utah Academic Senate committee has made it their goal to help students by exploring options to make textbooks cheaper. The option they currently chose to pursue was to encourage the adoption of open-access textbooks for lower level courses. The committee is aiming to save each student about $500 a year on their textbooks.

Ethan Senack, a higher education advocate with the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), has championed open-access textbooks as an ideal solution for introducing more competition into the textbook market to help drive prices down. In the current textbook market, the buyers (students) do not make the purchasing decisions. They buy the textbooks their professors require them to obtain, which is usually  from a selection of similarly priced $200 textbooks, and this removes the urgency for publishers to lower prices. The introduction of open-access textbooks have the potential to make the publishers offer more competitive pricing if they want their textbooks to continue being adopted in courses across the country.

The Academic Senate committee has stated they will look into other options to save students money, such as a textbook exchange, and continue to offer an online textbook price comparison tool and semester-long textbook rentals at half the price of a new volume at the university bookstore.

The committee is scheduled to report its findings in April 2014.

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