The push to make textbooks more affordable

To reduce barriers for students struggling to afford course materials, states and federal legislators are pursuing grant programs that would support institutions in their efforts to use free digital learning, teaching, and research materials known as open educational resources (OER), Business Insider reports.

The price of textbooks rose by 73% from 2006 to 2016, according to a study by Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs). As of the 2021-22 academic year, the average student spent between $628 to $1,471 annually on textbooks and course supplies, data from the Education Data Initiative indicates. Hard copy books can cost as much as $400, with textbooks averaging between $80 and $150 each. With just three textbook publishers accounting for 74% of all textbooks sold, according to a 2013 study, there is limited competition in the market, and thus limited customer choice.

Related: As more colleges use open educational resources, textbook costs shrink

Legislators, educators see OERs as one path to greater access

2020 U.S.PIRG Education Fund report shows how those expenses pose a barrier to education for many students. According to the report, 90% of nearly 4,000 students surveyed for the research said they were concerned that not purchasing assigned course materials might jeopardize their overall course grades. However, 66% said they did stop purchasing them at one point because they were too expensive.

Some stakeholders are pursuing greater use of OER—including open textbooks and other free, digital, publicly available course materials—as a potential remedy. Students who have access to OERs on the first day of class not only save money but also get better grades, a 2018 study shows, finding that students who used OERs saw over a 13% increase in “A” or “A-” grades compared to those who did not. Pell Grant recipients, part-time students, and students from historically underserved groups who used OERs received higher grades at an even greater rate compared to students who did not access those resources.

Hoping to scale those benefits, some states have increased their investment in open education grant funding. U.S. legislators have pursued bills to encourage OER use, and funds from several programs—including the Open Textbook Pilot Program and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)—are supporting projects at higher education institutions that create new open textbooks and expand the use of open textbooks in courses. SPIRGs’ research has shown that grant programs started during the pandemic have already saved college students over $2.5 million, Business Insider reports.

Georgetown Book Co-op

The Elizabeth Velez Book Co-Op Library housed in the the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access (CMEA) provides students in need with access to textbooks donated by their peers. Students can check out books at the beginning of the semester and return them at the end of the semester free of charge. Students demonstrating financial need may also apply for a book loan scholarship, through which CMEA purchases books on the student’s behalf; students can return the books at the end of the semester to be used as part of the Co-Op Library. Learn more about CMEA’s academic and support services. >

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