Students stage ‘textbook rebellion’ at University of Maryland

Plotkin spoke to students gathered outside a UMD library.

College students are going without required textbooks, doing their best to eke through the semester without shelling out hundreds in their campus bookstores. With inexpensive alternatives sparse, a group of college activists—backed by the Obama administration—is railing against skyrocketing textbook prices … one campus at a time.

The Textbook Rebellion, a nationwide tour of 40 campuses in 14 states during the fall semester, kicked off Aug. 31 at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) College Park campus, where officials from the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), student leaders, and an Obama administration official rallied for more open-source textbook options, both online and in print, that could trim students’ annual $1,000 book bill.

Textbook Rebellion launched a website that collects petition signatures aiming to show the widespread support for course textbooks that cost $30 or less, including online books that can be converted to traditional texts through an inexpensive printing process. Student PIRG officials said they hope to collect 10,000 signatures over the next six weeks.

Hal Plotkin, a senior policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) who addressed students and reporters gathered outside UMD’s McKeldin Library, said encouraging and incentivizing more open-source textbooks would be a key piece of President Obama’s goal to lead the world in college graduates by 2020.

Plotkin, a central figure in the White House’s plans for more free open educational resources, said the administration would soon unveil “substantial grants” for companies and educators willing to create textbooks that could be used on campuses nationwide.

Samantha Sperling, a UMD sophomore and the campus’s chapter chair of MaryPIRG, said that the costs of textbooks—even on a large campus with students committed to myriad causes—has long been a concern for any student who has to buy a $200 biology or psychology book.

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