American college students leave school with more debt than ever before in the history of the nation. Some students have had enough and have addressed their universities with an alternative, money saving, online textbook method that is what every college student loves to hear—free.
Well, not all of them, but it’s a start. “Faculty from nine colleges and universities across the United States have saved their students an estimated $1.5 million in textbook costs to date by adopting open textbooks, the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Network (OTN) reported this week,” says the University of Minnesota (UM) online newsletter.
The University of Minnesota is one of several universities around the nation who receive federally funded grants to participate in a one-year trial for a pilot plan. OTN—in its beginning phases—is an effort to reduce or eliminate the use of physical textbooks.
The University of Wisconsin received a federal grant of $14,200 to run this trial. Rutgers University received a $12,000 grant to explore Open Textbook for a year as well. OTN has expanded from seven schools to about 25 according to the UM newsletter.
According to the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) student chair Nick Jermer, “With this grant program, Rutgers can ensure that students have access to the learning materials they need to succeed—it’s good for students, it’s good for faculty, and it’s good for the school.”
According to Collegeboard, the average college student will pay $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies, a 79% rise from 2003. Amazon has maintained its standing as one of the leaders in textbook sales over the past five years, and with the rise of Prime—two-day guaranteed shipping—their stock will only continue to grow.
“More than one-quarter or 26% of students replied that they had used financial aid to pay for their textbooks. Nationally, this finding means that over 5.2 million students use financial aid to purchase their textbooks,” according to the My Central Jersey article. To put that in perspective, UWT’s tuition is currently $11,403 a year, $1,200 is roughly 10% the amount of that.
So, what is the Open Textbook Network? Is it better than Amazon?
“Open textbooks are funded, published, and licensed to be free for students or available in print for a low cost,” says the UM newsletter. According to a statement made by the NJPIRG, “Open textbooks are available for free online, are free to download and are affordable in print,” the statement said. “They have the potential to put billions back into student pockets, but remain underutilized by faculty and administration as a viable alternative to expensive textbooks.”
University libraries are put to the task of obtaining and organizing the OTN files; the systems look a lot like Ebsco Host or any site where one would find scholarly articles. Currently UM has 200 open books in a wide variety of subjects.
There have been some issues with these online books. Since they are on the Internet and sources are limited, professors are restricted as to the amount of information they have available to teach.
There is a lot of work to be done to make OTN a “thing” in the world of academia. Is this something that UWT should dabble in? Only time will tell.