Textbooks can be one of the largest expenses for students, but according to a recent study by the Student Public Interest Research Group, new technology could lessen that financial burden.
The Student PIRG study — “A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are the Path to Textbook Affordability” — is a response to a change in the Higher Education Opportunity Act that was passed over the summer. The change aimed to make the process of buying textbooks cheaper and easier for students by requiring professors to post textbook lists for classes during class registration.
In its report, Student PIRG found that online alternatives to traditional print textbooks are both cheaper for students and easier for professors to update.
Additionally, Student PIRG reported that “open textbooks” — free or inexpensive textbooks that can be downloaded or printed from websites like Project Gutenberg or Google Books — are particularly efficient for students and can be used as either a printed or digital text.
Steve White, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth who contributed to a conference call on Thursday about the study’s release, said he is very concerned about the rising cost of student textbooks.
“As a professor, I’ve noticed that many of my students are forgoing buying the textbooks due to financial hardship, especially since the economic downturn,” White said. “Their performance in the class suffers when they don’t have the book or access to the book.”
White said he prefers online textbooks, particularly open textbooks, to traditional print textbooks.
“I can customize the (online) textbook and teach the material I want,” White said. “I can add or delete material as I see fit.”
Nicole Allen, a Student PIRG leader and one of the directors of the study, said that online textbooks will make education significantly more affordable for students.
“Open textbooks offer a wide range of affordable, flexible options, including printable PDFs and files that can be read on a computer or smartphone,” Allen said.
But University professors sound more skeptical.
Business School Prof. Jim Adams said he is concerned with the flexibility of textbooks that are only online, in comparison to having the option of buying the hard copy of the book or accessing readings through C-Tools.
“I myself like to assign primary documents … I make all these publications available both in coursepacks and on C-Tools. That way, students can choose: pay for the convenience of a coursepack, or download yourself,” Adams wrote in an e-mail interview. “For the courses I teach, until now, I am not aware of an online option that is both available and good.”
Statistics Prof. Brenda Gunderson wrote in an e-mail interview that she believes in giving students multiple ways to access their class material, including online texts, e-books, and using the same edition for texts multiple years in a row to cut down on costs.
“I am very much in favor of giving students many options for their textbooks,” Gunderson wrote.
Gunderson cited online textbooks as beneficial when they offer interactive features and cost less for students.
University students also seem ambivalent towards using online textbooks.
LSA freshman Megan Lim said she prefers traditional print textbooks and readings.
“Online would be good for a quick resource,” Lim said. “But I prefer (print) books because you can actually mark and highlight in it.”
LSA junior Nick Manoogian said he is using an online textbook right now.
“My French textbook is online,” Manoogian said. “Financially, it would be (cheaper), but I think I’d prefer a hard copy.”