Administrators and professors should embrace open source textbooks – The GW Hatchet

The second semester is well under way, bringing with it the semi-annual ritual of buying textbooks at exorbitant prices. The national average price for course materials is $153 per course, which can mean that students may end up paying around $1,000 per semester just to get the reading materials they need. This puts additional financial strain on students and their families for a higher education institution that is already quite expensive.

GW and other institutions need to look to more affordable and accessible textbook options rather than letting a few textbook publishers impose additional financial burdens on students. They must use open educational resources, that is, free educational sites and materials, accessible online and available for use and sharing.

The responsibility of switching to cheaper, online textbooks lies with both administrators and teachers. Administrators should publicize open source options and encourage teachers to use them in their courses.

The root of the problem lies with textbook publishers who can get away with charging ungodly prices for their works. A 2016 report by the Public Interest Research Group found that four textbook publishing companies owned more than 80% of the textbook industry. Textbooks are usually required course materials for students, so textbook publishers can raise prices and students will still be pressured to buy them. After all, as an NBC article pointed out, there is no “textbook insurance” to help students afford expensive course materials. In addition, the choice and prices of textbooks are generally very limited. Bound by their teacher’s program, students generally do not have access to alternative prices or options. This allows textbook publishers to monopolize the industry, for which students must pay the price.

The results within the publishing industry are evident. University textbook prices have risen more than 1,000% since 1977, more than tripling the rate of inflation. Soaring prices have a very real and tangible impact on students paying enough for college as it is.

As I mentioned in a previous column, GW’s annual tuition is nearly $60,000, prompting many GW families to take out student loans. These loans can haunt students and their families for life, which goes against the belief that everyone should have the right to an accessible and affordable education. Students can spend upwards of $1,400 on textbooks and other supplies each semester, which is not included in our tuition. Paying for textbooks isn’t as expensive as the price of tuition, but it’s still thoughtless and unreasonable for GW and other universities to expect their students to pay for something so simple but essential than textbooks.

A 2018 survey by Morning Consult, a polling and data company, found that 85% of current and former students considered spending on course materials like textbooks to be one of their biggest financial stressors. This was exceeded only by the tuition fees themselves. Disturbingly, 43% of respondents skipped meals to afford course materials. Additionally, black students are 35% more likely than other respondents to skip a return trip to afford to pay.

This survey clearly demonstrates that the price of textbooks and other course materials represents a financial burden for students. Many students have to make sacrifices, often to a great extent, just to be able to buy the course materials they are supposed to buy.

In addition to diagnosing the problem, this investigation can also help highlight some solutions. More than 80% of respondents said accessible online course materials would benefit them.

The educational landscape is increasingly using the internet, a trend that the pandemic has only accelerated. Colleges in general and GW in particular must adapt to the times and leave expensive textbooks pumped up by publishers and demanded by professors in the past.

An important example of an open educational resource that GW should make more use of is open-source, royalty-free textbooks via the Internet. But according to a CBS article, only 6% of higher education institutions use this resource. GW administrators and faculty may direct on this matter and mandate or publicize the use of online or open source textbooks for the benefit of students and educators.

An example of affordable course material from my own experience is my General Psychology textbook from the OpenStax website, which is a non-profit provider of open source learning materials. This book was online and free to access. Considering OpenStax had free online textbooks for 35 introductory college courses as of September 2020, I’m honestly surprised that none of my other courses have used this site or similar sites. Teachers need to switch from expensive textbooks to free online textbook sites like OpenStax. This would make class content more easily accessible to students.

The student union voted to launch an online textbook exchange program called Hippo Community Library in September last year. While this is a step in the right direction, it does not solve this problem or make textbooks more affordable across campus. Teachers ultimately have a responsibility to allocate affordable textbooks, and administrators must enforce it to establish widespread access to cost-effective textbook options.

To charge students for expensive textbooks is to put unnecessary financial pressure on students who pay enough as is the case. Many families, at GW or elsewhere, are already struggling to afford the price of tuition. Administrators and teachers need to take simple but crucial steps to make textbooks more affordable.

Evan Wolf, a freshman majoring in political communications, is an opinion writer.

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