The board that oversees Florida’s state universities has launched a program that will offer free online textbooks to students; the program makes printed books available as well, for about half the price that students now pay every semester.
More than 120 textbooks are available to Florida state university students for downloading free of charge through the program, called Orange Grove Texts Plus. The initiative is a partnership with University Press of Florida. And if a student wants a printed book, he or she can buy the text for up to half off the prices found at most retail and online book stores, University Press officials said. The books will be sold for $29 to $54 apiece.
Orange Grove officials will tour the state in the coming weeks and lobby college faculty members to submit their textbooks to the free online repository. Cathy Alfano, a project manager for Orange Grove, said California bolstered its online textbook collection with a similar strategy.
"We don’t know how many we’ll discover," Alfano said.
Program officials said printed books would be made available because surveys show that although reading from a computer screen is commonplace on college campuses, many students don’t prefer it.
An Orange Grove survey found that 22 percent of students were "uncomfortable" reading from a laptop or personal computer screen, while 33 percent of students said they were "comfortable." Three-quarters of students in the survey said they preferred to read a print textbook instead of a digital textbook, and 60 percent of students said they would buy a discounted printed book even if the text was available for free online.
Dennis Lloyd, a spokesman for University Press of Florida, said the program will benefit from a growing sentiment among educators that web-based material should be free, especially when it benefits cash-strapped college students who often face textbook costs of more than $1,000 per year.
"There are some [professors] who do this because they’re believers in the idea that information wants to be free," Lloyd said, adding that the free online program will pay royalties to authors when printed textbooks are sold through the web site.
The Orange Grove program will get its funding, in part, from the sale of discounted books, officials said, although a long-term funding model has yet to be announced. Orange Grove Texts was launched in 2004 as a web-based repository for educator lesson plans, holding more than 1,200 text, audio, video, and illustrated resources for teachers.
Alfano said the free online option will give college students a chance to trim their hefty textbook expenses during a down economy in which few jobs are available.
"Students are always trying to save money, and even more when economic times are rough," said Alfano, who added that the Orange Grove program has gotten an "incredible flurry of interest from Florida educators and students–there’s a lot of interest out there right now."
College students spend $800 to $1,100 a year on textbooks, according to government and industry reports. The cost of books has tripled between 1986 and 2004, rising more than 5 percent every year. Students are increasingly charging their textbooks to credit cards, adding to debt that could hurt after graduation, according to a study by Sallie Mae, the country’s biggest college lender.
The rising cost of books has spawned rental web sites. Higher-education officials and representatives from textbook rental companies said the rental industry has boomed over the past year, as students and their families have been affected by the recession.
Chegg.com, launched in 2007, has shipped books to students at more than 6,000 U.S. colleges and universities, a spokeswoman said. The company says it saves students up to 85 percent off textbooks, trimming overall student textbook costs by more than $40 million over the past two years. Chegg.com reportedly carries two million book titles.