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Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks: Why: Textbook Costs

Affordability and Openess

A four quadrant image showing some course material options on the spectrums of affordability and openess. Options that are "less open" and "less affordable" include textbooks with online access codes and traditional textbooks. Options that are "more affordable" and "less open" include library course reserves and web content. Options that are "more affordable" and "more open" include OA articles and Open educational resources.

While we hear a lot about rising tuition costs, textbook costs have been rising even faster than college tuition. Instructors who consider the spectrum of "openness" and "affordability" in identifying and selecting potential course materials can help ease the burden of textbook costs upon students throughout their time at University.

Some actions that you can take to increase openness and affordability of your course materials if an OER textbook isn't right for your class might include: 

  • Making it clear on your syllabus if older editions of a textbook can work for the course.
  • Putting a copy of a course text on course reserve.
  • Provide or link to alternative or supplemental readings or resources that are open or free.

During Open Education Week 2018, we posed the following question to students via a whiteboard near the library cafe:"If you didn't have to pay so much for textbooks, what could you do instead?"  Here's what our students told us.... Individual quotes are in speech bubbles on an orange background. "Quit one of my four jobs", "Put more money into music making", "Not struggle to live off 700 dining dollars a semester", "See my mom in person", "See things more positively, it’s hard when you’re always struggling", "Not pick classes based on textbooks", "Travel more often", "Have more money to buy food and other necessities throughout the semester", "Invest my textbook money in a savings account".

More formal surveys on the impact of textbook affordability on student learning, emotional health, and finances have been conducted. We cannot assume the applicability of this information to our campus context. This information is shared with the knowledge that more conversation and investigation are needed to better understand if course materials impact student success, mental health, and issues like food insecurity on campus. 

 Some key findings from outside formal surveys are shared below: 

Average Cost of College Textbooks, Education Data Initiative, 2022

Key findings include:

  • 66% of students (nationwide) report not purchasing required books or supplies because of high costs.
  • 25% of students (nationwide) report working additional hours to help pay for their school supplies and books.
  • 11% of students (nationwide) report skipping meals to be able to afford textbooks and other supplies

Jenkins et al., 2020

Key findings include:

  • The majority of students at a four-year public HSI reported feeling increased stress due to textbook costs, not having textbooks on the first day of class, and not buying a textbook due to cost and feeling like their course performance suffered.
  • Latinx students, students on financial aid, and first-generation students were more likely to experience adverse effects including increased stress, not having a textbook on the first day of class, or failing a class because they did not buy the textbook due to cost-related reasons. 

Florida Virtual Campus Textbook Survey

Key findings include:

  • 67% of students didn't purchase at least one required textbook.
  • 46% of students avoid taking a particular course because of textbook costs.
  • 26% of students dropped a course and 21% of students withdrew from a course because they could not afford the textbook.

Washington State Student Survey

Key findings include:

  • 47% of students "often" have materials on the first day of class.
  • 48% of students said that their financial aid money "never" or "rarely" arrives in time to purchase course materials for the first day of classes.
  • 57% of students shared materials from someone else due to cost. 44% went without course materials due to cost. 18% dropped or withdrew from one or more classes because of the cost of materials.