SECU Workshop at Texas A&M Discusses Solutions for high Textbook Costs

By Marketing and Communications | 02-16-2015

A college education supports pathways to greater economic prosperity, professional fulfillment and intellectual growth for students. For many U.S. students, though, a college education also represents a costly investment that can keep many students from attaining a college degree. Higher education institutions, including the research universities of the Southeastern Conference, are exploring innovative means to address the costs of attending college so that a college degree is a realistic goal for all students.

One such innovation involves the adoption of open access (OA) textbooks in introductory college courses through Open Educational Resources, which provides research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by faculty and students. Since electronic versions of OA textbooks are free to students, they can reduce the significant costs of textbooks.

The promise and challenges of OA textbooks was among the topics discussed at the first-ever SEC Academic Collaboration Award Workshop, Feb. 6-8, 2015, hosted by the Texas A&M University Libraries on campus at Texas A&M. Teams of student government leaders, relevant library experts and library directors from the 13 SEC universities were invited to participate in the workshop. Each team was challenged to design an OA initiative that draws upon the strengths of the library-student government partnerships at their university and addresses an important need at their university.

The workshop explored strategies to motivate and support faculty as they adopt OA textbooks for their classes. College textbook prices have risen 82 percent between 2003 and 2013, according to a study conducted by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), affecting the decision by students to purchase textbooks for their classes. SPARC also reports that 65 percent of students are not purchasing a textbook because of its high price. The rapid increase of textbook costs is approximately triple the rate of inflation in overall consumer prices during the same time (27 percent).

Sarah Potvin, a digital scholarship librarian at Texas A&M, explained in Emily Wilkins’ Feb. 9 story in The Eagle, "The idea isn't how do we take these expensive resources and swap them for readily-available but not up-to-par resources," she said. "We heard at the [SEC] workshop about developing education resources that are as good as, and better than, these horrifically priced textbooks."

In the keynote address at the SEC Workshop given by David Ernst, Director of the Open Textbook Network at the University of Minnesota, Ernst reported that a survey of University of Minnesota students found that the high cost of textbooks caused them to not purchase a required text book (63.6 percent), take fewer courses (49.2 percent), not register for a specific course (45.1 percent), earn a poor grade (33.9 percent), drop a course (26.7 percent), and even fail a course (17.0 percent).

Reducing the costs of textbooks for students, even making them free, and developing more public access to thousands of research papers, is at the forefront of an initiative by the University Libraries to support transitioning Texas A&M into an “open university,” where research and educational resources are shared with society free of access and various copyright restrictions.

Dr. Bruce Herbert, director of the Office of Scholarly Communications at Texas A&M, recognizes the many potential benefits from shifting Texas A&M to an open university model. “Authors publishing open access articles may be cited with greater frequency than articles in non-OA journals, which may also enhance the scholarly reputation of university faculty,” Dr. Herbert said.

Open access is moving forward on college campuses through programs such as OAKTrust, the Texas A&M Digital Repository. OAKTrust collects, preserves and distributes the scholarly output of the university, including scholarly articles and books, electronic theses and dissertations, conference proceedings, technical reports, and digitized library collections. The Open Access to Knowledge (OAK) Fund established by the University Libraries, in fulfillment of Texas A&M’s commitment to the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity, underwrites OA publication charges for open educational resources authored by Texas A&M faculty.

“Open access also removes many of the barriers that prevent Texas A&M from sharing its scholarship with society so that it can be brought to bear on societal grand challenges,” Dr. Herbert said. “Supporting faculty to adopt open access textbooks can reduce costs for students and help keep a Texas A&M education affordable.”

The workshop was supported by the SECU, the academic initiative of the SEC, and was based on a winning proposal submitted by the Texas A&M University Libraries. The University Libraries partnered with SPARC and the Right to Research Coalition to help organize the workshop.

For more information: Contact James Solano, Texas A&M University Libraries; 979.862.2764.