Higher education costs are on a steady rise in the US, but e-books might help take the edge off.
The cost of going to college in the United States is frighteningly high, and it’s getting higher. The cost of tuition rose 66% between 2006 and 2016; the cost of housing rose by 50%, and the cost of textbooks rose by a staggering 88%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rise is untenable for many, and some institutions are now trying to find ways to cut costs and help reduce expenses for their students. One solution, proposed in Maryland and New York, is to introduce free open-source, copyright-free textbooks.
The University System of Maryland is taking the helm by giving out 21 mini-grants for seven community colleges and five public four-year schools. The grants are being used to fund “faculty who are adopting, adapting or scaling the use of OER [open educational resources] in Fall 2017 through high-enrollment courses where quality OER exists,” announced the USM in an announcement.
OER resources typically comprises electronic textbooks with licenses much more relaxed as compared to regular textbooks. They can be copied and distributed freely, only to be revised at the end of a semester to tailor them better to the needs of a specific class. MIT pioneered such a system in 2001 by making all of their course material open to the public under a creative commons license.
The mini grants will only save faculty between $500 and $2,500 dollars, but is still expected to save 8,000 students an estimated $1,2 million in textbook costs. “Since 1978, the cost of textbooks has risen 812%, outpacing even the cost of medical services and new housing,” the announcement says. “Nationally, students spend an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks. Within Maryland alone, 2-year and 4-year students spend over $223 million in textbooks.”
New York made a big announcement as well, stating that they would offer free tuition to families who earn less than $125,000 per year, but also that they would be investing $8 million in open source teaching material over the next year. “As the cost of textbooks can be prohibitively expensive, the Budget also invests $8 million to provide open educational resources, including electronic-books, to students at SUNY and CUNY,” according to the budget announcement. “At the state’s direction, SUNY and CUNY will use this funding to target high-enrollment courses, including general education, to maximize student savings.”