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Author: John Hilton III, PhD and Kenneth L. Alford, PhD

By John Hilton III and Kenneth L. Alford

Brigham Young University, Utah

john_hilton@byu.edu; ken_alford@byu.edu

College textbooks are expensive, and prices continue to rise. The Bureau of Labor reported a 600 percent increase in textbook costs between 1980 and 2012. The average 2015 American college student graduated with over $35,000 of student debt, a portion of which came from textbook costs. In a recent survey of over 22,000 college students, 64 percent reported not purchasing a required textbook because it was too expensive, 49 percent stated that textbook costs caused them to take fewer courses, and 34 percent declared they had earned a poor grade in one or more courses because they could not afford to buy the textbook.

Students cope with this problem in a variety of ways—purchasing older editions of textbooks, delaying their purchases, sharing textbooks with other students, or avoiding textbook purchases altogether. What can be done to alleviate this problem?

One promising solution is open textbooks, part of a larger Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative. OER typically use Creative Commons licenses that provide professors and students with more permissions than traditional copyrights do, such as granting permission to edit or delete text. OER have been used in hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada, including Harvard University, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Ohio State University, Purdue University, Brigham Young University, University of British Columbia, and the University of Calgary.



Getting Started

After you decide to consider the possibility of switching to an open textbook, how can you find and survey your available options? One resource is the University of Minnesota's Open Textbook Library (http://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/), a repository of open textbooks that also includes faculty textbook reviews. Numerous other repositories are also available. Using these, you can find, download, and evaluate potential open textbooks as desired.

If a quality open textbook alternative is available, the decision to switch can provide immediate financial benefits to your students and result in a textbook you are able to tailor to your students' needs. You will never know what is available until you investigate for yourself. Based on our experience, we recommend that you give it a try!


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/cpi/.

2 http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/05/08/congratulations-class-of-2015-youre-the-most-indebted-ever-for-now/.

3 Florida Virtual Campus (2012). Florida Student Textbook Survey. Tallahassee. http://www.openaccesstextbooks.org/pdf/2012_Florida_Student_Textbook_Survey.pdf.

4 For additional information on OER, see https://library.educause.edu/resources/2010/5/7-things-you-should-know-about-open-educational-resources.

5 For additional information on Creative Commons, see https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.

6 A list of colleges that have adopted open textbooks published by Rice University is provided at https://openstax.org/adopters. Note that these textbooks are only a small fraction of the total number of open textbooks that are currently available.

7 Bissell, Ahrash N. Permission granted: Open licensing for educational resources. Open Learning, 24 (1) (February 2009), 97–106.

8 Hilton III, J. Open educational resources and college textbook choices: A review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development. (Forthcoming.)

9 See also the California Open Online Library for Education (http://coolfored.org/) and the repository finder hosted by BC Campus in Vancouver, British Columbia. https://open.bccampus.ca/open-textbook-101/where-to-find-open-textbooks/.