University looks to remove barriers to open textbooks

“Faculty share student concerns about high textbook costs and are willing to consider high-quality, affordable alternatives like open textbooks,” Duranczyk said.

Advocates for open textbooks said by listing reviewed texts and awarding stipends to faculty members who support the initiative, UMN has taken two important pieces from the host of open-content efforts that have emerged throughout higher education as college students now spend more than $1,100 on school materials every year.

“It’s a very unique combination, and one that could be a sort of perfect storm of [open educational resources],” said Nicole Allen, campaign director for the Student Public Interest Research Groups’ “Make Textbooks Affordable” program.

UMN’s online repository won’t appeal only to technologically savvy professors and instructors with a long history of support for the open textbook movement, Allen said.

“This is the kind of resource that really targets faculty who are just looking for affordable textbooks,” she said. “I think there is growing awareness among faculty that textbook prices are so high … and in some cases they’re helping find alternatives.”

The university’s new open textbook catalog and its plans to expand the review process drew immediate praise from UMN student leaders.

“High textbook costs are one of the many factors that are contributing to the increasing financial burden that students are facing,” said Lizzy Shay, the university’s undergraduate student body president. “Affordable open textbooks would go a long way in relieving that burden.”

Faculty members could be more willing to review and adopt cheaper textbooks after a 2011 national survey showed that seven in 10 student respondents hadn’t purchased at least one assigned textbook owing to high costs. Of those students, eight in 10 said their grades would suffer without the necessary books.

“Hearing students complain about this issue is one thing,” Allen said. “But when it begins to affect the way an educator would conduct a class, it takes on new meaning for many people.”

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