OpenStax aims to reduce textbook costs

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OpenStax College, a program created at Rice University, provides students with free online copies of peer-reviewed textbooks created by educators. The textbooks can be accessed through openstaxcollege.org and downloaded as a PDF or opened directly through the website.

According to the website, the goal of OpenStax is to “improve student access to quality learning materials.” The program was funded with help from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and 20 Million Minds Foundation, among others.

The website offers 16 college textbooks for subjects spanning from biology to economics, among other subjects. There are eight more textbooks that are currently being written and will become accessible by 2017.

Some of the books are also offered as printed books available for a low cost. For example, ordering the Biology book would only cost students $52 through the site’s Amazon store.

Professor Kimberly Heym, who teaches biology at Capital, says she would “be willing to consider” using the textbook from OpenStax. Currently, she does not require a book for the class, but the one that she recommends is “Biological Sciences” by Scott Freeman—this book costs $161.30 to buy used from Capital’s bookstore, and it does not offer an option to rent.

“If it was a decent quality, I would definitely recommend it. I know how expensive these textbooks are and I feel like it’s a complete racket,” Heym said. “I always put a copy on reserve in the library because I know students sometimes can’t afford it and I don’t want that to impede their success.”

According to an article published by NBC News, a review of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data has shown that the price of buying new college textbooks has raised over three times the rate of inflation between January 1977 and June 2015. The College Board estimates that students spent over $1,200 on textbooks and supplies in the 2014-15 school year.

Publishing companies also sell CDs and access codes to websites, which can vastly increase the price of a book. A report published by the Bureau of State Auditors of California states that new editions of textbooks are released on average every 3.9 years, which can also increase the amount students pay for textbooks.

Despite renting most of her books this year, junior Mikaela Wiecher spent about $600 on textbooks.

“I think [free textbooks] would help with the yearly cost of school,” Wiecher said. “I personally don’t use my own money to buy books, but I know a lot of students do, and it is a stressful ordeal, trying to come up with an extra $500 per semester.”

In 2015, students graduated with an average of $35,051 of debt, according to eAdvisor. Spending less on textbooks each year could possibly reduce that number.

“Just because something is free or cheaper doesn’t mean it is better,” said Professor Sherry Mong, sociology and criminology professor at Capital. “Even though instructors have done this—it might be absolutely fine—but I would have to look at to see who they are, how they are presenting my information, and who the editorial board is. There’s a lot to picking out a textbook, and really not all sociology textbooks are created the same. You want to make sure that it lines up with what your goals are for the course.”

However, she says that she is open to looking at the Introduction to Sociology textbook offered by OpenStax. The current textbook that she uses for her class, Sociology in Our Times by Diana Kendall, is available to rent and to buy through Capital’s bookstore—the cheapest option is to rent the textbook used for $88.20.

Despite the steep cost of textbooks, there are a few ways to try to reduce the price. Renting textbooks is cheaper than buying. Websites such as Chegg, Amazon, and TextbookRush are typically cheaper than the campus bookstore and usually offer rental and electronic versions of textbooks. Also, many professors put copies of their books on hold in the library for students to check out and use whenever they need it. There is also the option of sharing a book with a friend who is taking the same class. Students can also wait until the first week of classes to find out if the book is even required.

As OpenStax College grows and more textbooks become available, more campuses across the country have begun using the materials on the site. Some professors at Kent State University, Marietta College, The Ohio State University, and Wright State University have adopted these textbooks, along with dozens of other schools across the country. With more awareness about this program, it is possible that some of the books may be used at Capital.

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