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From the Daily: Turning a new page


Published March 30, 2014

As the prices of textbooks continue to rise, many college students are choosing to not purchase them at all. With many students continually struggling to pay for higher education, the added stress of buying expensive textbooks is a serious issue. It’s because of these high prices that some universities are turning to open-source textbooks. The University should make an effort to utilize open-source textbooks more often in class curricula in order to reduce the cost of education for its students.

The University of Maryland, College Park is one of the universities working on making the transition. Open-source textbooks are comprised of materials from a variety of sources that are not subject to copyright restrictions. The initiative to use open-source textbooks is just a pilot program at the University of Maryland but it has been estimated that the program has saved 1,100 students $130,000 collectively.

According to the College Board, the average university student spends $1,200 annually on textbooks and supplies, and depending on the major, the amount can be even higher. Open-source textbooks would provide a free alternative to these expensive textbooks. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, average textbook prices rose 82 percent between the years 2002 and 2012. With this kind of price hike, students need more cost-efficient resources.

However, there are concerns that go along with using open-source textbooks. Textbook publishers have extensive processes involved in editing the information presented in the textbooks they sell. They make sure that the materials are credible and use reliable and correct information. It could be harder to check the credibility and reliability of open-source textbooks since they would be compiled from so many different sources. To combat the problem of credibility and reliability, extensive review systems should be implemented. For example, the College Open Textbooks Collaborative provides reviews of books used by over 200 community and two-year colleges. Reviewers are community college professors with at least one year of teaching experience and their reviews are considered along with their curriculum vitae. Open-source textbooks should be treated as all other academic articles are and be reviewed by experts in the field to ensure quality information. Minimum teaching requirements and a demonstration of qualification should be a standard for all reviewers, and open-source textbooks should be constantly reviewed by these individuals to ensure credibility and reliability.

There are already a number of simple ways that the University can transition into an era of cheaper textbooks. The University already has subscriptions to many academic journals, magazines and newspapers. Professors should utilize these resources as often as possible, as some classes have completely replaced textbooks with these online articles. Additionally, a number of professors at the University allow students to use drafts of textbooks they’re currently writing — sending students updated versions if certain chapters have been edited. More professors should consider this method, and professors already doing so should consider allowing other classes to use their textbook drafts.

The University should take note of the other colleges that have already begun to transition to open-source textbooks. California State University, Washington State College, the University of Minnesota and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all have compiled giant libraries of free course materials online within recent years. These colleges are making an effort to save their students money on textbooks, and the University should do the same. However, in doing so, the University should consider other aspects of switching to open-source textbooks, like providing additional printing pages to allow students to view these resources on paper.

With the rapid rise of college tuition over the past decade, colleges need to assist students in investigating cheaper alternatives to pricey textbooks. Textbooks are an essential tool for learning, but their extremely high prices provide a barrier to students. Open-source textbooks can be that alternative, and with proper support from the academic community, they can be just as effective.