Textbooks

Photo illustration of two students making a transaction for college textbooks.

In a time of access codes and increased textbook costs, a new study points to "open educational resources" as a way to save students billions.

Open educational resources, or OER, are "freely accessible online and extremely affordable in price," said Kaitlyn Vitez, a higher education advocate for U.S. PIRG, a nonprofit advocacy organization which published the study called ‘OPEN 101: an Action Plan for Affordable Textbooks’ on Friday.

U.S. PIRG did this study in collaboration with Student PIRGS, a group of college students who aim to solve public interest problems.

OER provide not just open textbooks to students, but also "full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge," according to the Hewlett Foundation.

U.S. PIRG researched forty schools across the United States, and the study found that students students spent an average of $153 per course.

Textbook and supply costs have risen by 1,041 percent in forty years, according to the study’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

"Previous research has shown that 65 percent of students have skipped buying the book at some point because of cost," Vitez said during a phone conference on Friday.

If these forty colleges used open educational resources, or OER, in 10 core courses, students would save $13 million in a single semester, according to the study. If every college in the United States switched 10 classes to OER, students would save $1.5 billion annually.

The study also mentions how access codes make courses more expensive.

Connor Kirk, a sophomore engineering student from Loudoun County, VA, said he pays around $500 a semester for books due to four out of his five classes requiring access codes.

"It's pretty hard to get $500 for your books," Kirk said.

According to the study, 38 percent of the courses researched "used access codes, and ninety-four percent of the time these access codes were sold in a bundle."

"Traditional publishers are taking advantage of students in the chance of marketplace largely because students must buy what materials are assigned to them," Vitez said.

Vitez said access codes, when bundled with other course material, can "push students into paying top dollar at the bookstore."

For example, the study showed how a college algebra course would charge $147 for a book bundled with an access code. A used textbook for the class would only cost $46. Yet, according to the study, 78 percent of schools in the study used the access codes for this course, meaning even if a student purchased the used textbook, he or she would still have to dish out money for the code.

According to College Board, a nonprofit higher education organization, undergraduate students at a four-year public college like WVU spend an average of $1,250 every year on books and supplies.

"We need to find new ways to make sure students who have worked hard to get into college don’t encounter barriers to success while they’re there," Vitez said.

In November, the WVU Student Government Association passed a resolution in support of open textbooks and OER.

"OER make sense," said WVU Student Government President Blake Humphrey during the Friday phone conference. "They support student success by alleviating financial constraints and increasing the quality of learning."

For more information on the study, visit www.studentpirgs.org/textbooks.