Textbook Broke

By Michael Dudek

(Wesley Fryer/Flickr)
(Wesley Fryer/Flickr)

College students spend a staggering amount of money on textbooks each year. The College Board currently recommends that the average undergraduate student should spend up to $1,200 to $1,300 for textbooks annually. Since 1978, the price of textbooks has increased 812 percent, 3.2 times the rate of inflation. With 90 percent of the $8.8 billion market owned by just five textbook publishers, there is no doubt that the textbook market has some serious functionality problems.

To help save students money, the student Public Interest Research Group has spent years working on the Affordable Textbooks campaign, promoting open source textbooks. The campaign for open source textbooks aims to get students, faculty and administrators involved in the fight against traditional textbooks by switching over to Open Educational Resources (OER). Open source textbooks are faculty written, peer-reviewed and published under an open license. They are available free online to download, and print copies are available at $10 to $40 or approximately the cost it would take to print.

With students already struggling with the burden of rising higher education costs, this is a tangible way to save students’ money. If undergraduate students in the United States used just one open source textbook in place of a traditional textbook, the student PIRGs have estimated that it would save students $1.418 billion nationally.

As a student, I know that my peers support the idea of open textbooks and lower textbook costs. Not only could we individually save money that could be used for other higher education expenses, but we could fundamentally improve the textbook market.

For example; second semester of freshman year I spent $220 on an introductory level Spanish textbook. If I had an open textbook instead I could’ve bought all the rest of the books I needed that semester with the money saved from that one textbook. The ridiculous price of that one textbook is what prompted me to get involved with MASSPIRG.

The three main challenges to achieving more widespread open source textbook adoption are awareness, access and availability. Not enough students and university staff are informed about open source textbooks. MASSPIRG is working to educate professors on how to use open source textbooks already in existence and how to create their own. And we need everyone’s help because we know it works. Since 2011, the OEI has saved UMass Amherst students approximately $1.3 million.

At its core, the Affordable Textbooks Campaign has a mission of ensuring that every student has access to the high quality learning materials they need at little-to-no cost. The rising costs of textbooks affect us all, and right now is a ripe for opportunity for change. If everyone joins together, we have the ability to make a significant difference for all students at UMass. The solution the problem has been presented to us in the form of open source textbooks, and now it is time to act and say enough is enough. We can do something about the rising cost of textbooks, and we will. In the words of the student PIRGs, “We can’t afford to pass up a billion-dollar solution.”

Michael Dudek is a Collegian contributor and a member of MASSPIRG and can be reached at [email protected]