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Textbooks are way too expensive, and Oregon State is creating change

Two students talk while walking down a pathway. Open Education Week

OSU faculty are working to make student learning more affordable through open educational resources

By Tyler Hansen

These are a few of the world’s undeniable truths: Water is wet, the sun rises in the East and college textbooks are too expensive.

Unless life on Earth fundamentally changes, the first two will always be true.

But the oft-exorbitant cost of textbooks can change for the better, and Oregon State University — with its faculty leading the way — is on a mission to make college more affordable and accessible for students.

With the support of Oregon State’s Open Educational Resources Unit, an increasing number of OSU faculty members are adopting, adapting and authoring freely available online textbooks and course materials.

The continued development and implementation of these no-cost and low-cost learning materials is making an immense difference:

Since 2019, Oregon State faculty and the Open Educational Resources Unit have helped OSU students save more than $11 million in course material costs.

That’s a significant, commendable impact, but in the interest of sharing truths, here’s another: Much more needs to be done.

High costs hit students in the wallet and at home

Many textbook prices produce a “sticker shock” reaction, but thinking of course materials only in dollars and cents is too one-dimensional. In addition to the financial burden placed on students, the high costs take an emotional toll and force them to make tough life decisions.

“At the beginning of each term, I have to delay my phone payment and buy less food until I receive my (financial aid) disbursement so that I can ensure I have my required course materials,” one Oregon State student said in response to an OERU survey.

They were one of many students who said course material costs affect their ability to buy groceries. Others have to work longer hours in order to save for textbooks. Faced with those choices, some students elect to not purchase certain items even though they know it could negatively impact their class performance.

Faculty ‘a-ha’ moments can lead to necessary changes

John Morris, a senior instructor in Oregon State’s College of Business, had an eye-opening realization a few years ago. He planned to administer an open-book final exam, and he asked during the exam review if anyone needed a copy of the book.

More than a dozen students raised their hands.

“None had actually purchased the textbook,” Morris shared previously. “When I dug deeper, several admitted to sharing one, but a few acknowledged that the book was so expensive they just couldn’t afford to buy it. They were muddling their way through their education without the benefit of a textbook.”

Morris eventually adapted an existing open textbook to fit the needs of his course, and Oregon State students are benefiting both financially and academically.

“With an OER textbook,” he said, “I don’t have to worry about access and affordability anymore.”

In addition to providing grant funding to develop OER, the Open Educational Resources Unit also supports faculty efforts to understand what openly licensed textbooks are and explore how to produce and incorporate them in courses.

“We’re committed to the issue of affordable learning, and we have the tools to help faculty develop the no-cost and low-cost course materials to make it a reality,” said OERU Director Stefanie Buck.

“Students are the stakeholders who are most impacted by the cost of course materials, but they have the least influence on what materials faculty select for their courses. Making learning more affordable is one of the best ways we can advocate for students.”

Learn about OER at Oregon State

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