Pilots try to lower textbook costs

Pilot projects to lower textbook costs — including e-books, rentals and open education resources (OER) — are underway at colleges and universities across the nation, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Lynn University bought iPad minis for incoming freshmen and plans to offer nine introductory courses through Apple’s digital course manager, iTunes U.

“Essentially, our goal is to get rid of all textbooks in our core curriculum,” said Chris Boniforti, the university’s chief information officer. “Without getting myself in too much trouble, I’d like for that to happen next year.”

Given Apple’s tendency to update its tablets about once a year, Boniforti said students will be able to upgrade to the newest model once their iPad has turned two years old. Upperclassmen interested in the courses can also rent an iPad for $100 — less than the cost of the textbook. If a student breaks the iPad, whether by accident or not, the university will repair it and issue a rental in the meantime.

Other universities are trying open-source textbooks, such as Rice University’s OpenStax College, a nonprofit publisher, and the University of Minnesota’s open textbook catalog.

Students rent, share, steal or skip textbooks

Students are finding ways to save money on textbooks, or do without, reports the The Chronicle of Higher Education, which surveyed students at Foothill College in Silicon Valley (I live down the street) and Berkeley.

Ask Johnny Lazzarini whether he ever skips buying textbooks, and the Foothill College student laughs.

“When I look at a syllabus and it says, ‘required text,’ I think in my head, Oh, that’s adorable,” says Mr. Lazzarini, 21, a biology major at this Silicon Valley community college.

Mr. Lazzarini, who waits tables 35 hours a week, has a hard enough time paying for rent and groceries. Textbooks cost him about $500 each quarter. So before he buys one, he looks up the class on Rate My Professors. If previous students say the professor rarely uses a book, he skips it.

One out of every three seniors—and one in four freshmen—often don’t buy required materials because of their price, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.

Twenty-one percent of students admitted using a pirate site to get textbooks in 2012, according the Book Industry Study Group.

Some students go online to buy cheap international editions. (My husband stopped writing engineering textbooks because the very low-cost Indian editions are resold illegally in the U.S., cutting his royalties. He can’t make enough money to justify his time.)

Most college book stores rent textbooks. So do Amazon and competitors like BookRenter and CampusBookRentals, reports the Chronicle.

 The result: When students enter the Foothill campus bookstore, they may be confronted by five different prices for a single book. Take Approaching Democracy. The political-science textbook sells for $62 (e-book), $154 (new print book), $115.50 (used print book), $107.80 (new print rental), and $59.30 (used rental).

Using Amazon for rentals and used books, Sarah Schueler spent only $80 for books last quarter at Foothill. New, they’d have cost about $400.

E-books usually are cheaper, but most college students prefer print textbooks.

Using an online book for one class, Eduardo C. Albano, 18, found he had to spend twice as much time to read it.

“For some reason, my brain could not get the information as clearly reading the electronic screen as it could marking up the pages and reading it firsthand,” he says.

Providing free e-books is turning out to be difficult because of “money pressures, slow adoption by professors, and quality concerns,” reports the Chronicle.

High textbook costs make it harder for Foothill students to complete their degrees.

The price of textbooks is more than double tuition at Foothill, says Marie Efira, 63, who studies anthropology. She’d take more classes if she could afford the books.

Beth Stolyarchuk, a Marine Corps veteran and radiology student, supports her family on the GI Bill. “I have to go and spend $400 for a couple of books—it’s absolutely outrageous. It’s unacceptable that I can’t buy groceries for two weeks because I had to pay for books.” She borrowed from her in-laws to pay for food.

College textbook bubble will burst

The college textbook bubble will burst when the “open educational resources” movement breaks the textbook cartel, writes Mark Perry on AEIdeas.

Since 1978, the cost of education books and supplies (mostly college textbooks) has increased by 812 percent, his chart shows. That’s much more than the very high inflation rate for medical services or new homes and way more than the 250 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index. It’s “unsustainable,” Perry writes.

Never Pay Sticker Price for a Textbook Again, writes Slate.

My husband used to write college engineering textbooks. He hasn’t updated his old book or written a new one because he doesn’t think he can earn enough to justify his time. In part, that’s because publishers charge so much for textbooks that students are refusing to buy them. They share, use out-of-date editions, buy pirated copies online or try to get by without a book. He’s looked at writing an online textbook, but the money doesn’t work that way either.

He’d like to write a new, shorter book that leaves out the skills students no longer need and includes higher-level skills that could get them their first job. But it’s an enormous amount of work. Professors would have to update their courses. And students won’t buy it if it’s too expensive.

Who will write college textbooks in the brave new “open” world? Maybe young professors who want to make their mark. Maybe the whole idea of a single textbook is obsolete.

‘Open’ and free (or very cheap) textbooks

Cheaper than Apple’s new iB00k app, open-source learning materials will cut the high cost of textbooks radically, advocates say.  From my latest U.S. News story:

The average community college student spends nearly $3,000 on tuition and more than $1,000 for textbooks and supplies, estimates College Board.

Furthermore, textbook prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation, charges the Student Public Interest Research Groups(Student PIRGs). Twenty-nine percent of students at Daytona State College, a Florida community college, said they’d failed to buy a required book because of the cost; nearly a quarter took fewer classes because they couldn’t afford the books.

“Open” learning materials—e-books, videos, simulations, and more—will slash students’ costs without requiring them to buy an iPad, argues Geoff Cain, director of distance education at College of the Redwoods in California. His college’s math instructors created their own e-books, with online tutorials and quiz banks. The online or CD versions are free; students pay a nominal cost for a printed copy.

Washington state’s technical and community colleges have created an Open Course Library with digital textbooks, syllabi, activities, readings, and assessments for the most popular classes. Instead of buying a $200 chemistry textbook, students can use an open-source version for no more than $30.

California is considering legislation to create its own open-source library for the most popular courses at state universities and community colleges. If professors adopt the open materials, students will pay nothing for online access and $20 for printed copies.

Apple announces iPad text books

Apple will sell e-textbooks designed to run on iPads.

Apple unveiled a new version of its iBooks digital book software that supports textbooks featuring quizzes, note-taking, study cards and other features like the ability to interact with a diagram of an ant.

The service will launch with a small number of high-school titles from McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson PLC and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Textbooks for courses such as algebra 1, environmental science and biology will be available first, priced at $14.99 or less. Eventually, Apple said, it expects textbooks for almost every subject and grade level. The company also announced iBooks Author, to help developers create interactive titles.

In a media event held at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Apple executives said textbooks should be portable, searchable, easy to update and provide immediate feedback.

Students hit hard by textbook costs

Textbook costs are a growing burden for community college students, writes Eric Frank, president and co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, Inc., on the College Affordability blog.

Most community colleges have held down tuition increases in the last decade, according to a recent study (pdf).  Yet textbook prices increased 22 percent over the last four years, quadruple the inflation rate, Frank writes. As a result, many students are not buying the books they need, surveys have found.

Some policy makers are trying to innovate. California will fund the creation of 50 free online college textbooks. Washington State’s Open Course Library offering community-college students affordable online resources.

However, the textbook industry resists change, Frank writes. As sales go down, publishers “raise prices and revise editions faster to flush out used books.”

Disruptive new business models have emerged to change the economics of the $8 billion college textbook business. Educational entrepreneurs with new ideas and technology innovations are offering students a variety of alternatives to high-priced, static course materials.

Options range from textbook rentals to digital textbooks to the more transformative open textbook model, which gives students free, unlimited access to their texts online, and allows instructors to edit the content to match the learning outcomes of their course.

Open textbooks, part of the growing open educational resources (OER) movement, is an easy way to drive down costs and reach under-served students.

Textbook costs must be part of the national conversation on college costs, Frank writes.

Free e-books may be a bad deal

Free e-books may not be a good deal for tech-poor community college students, writes Dean Dad.

Textbook costs are a real issue for students at many community colleges. For the intro to biology sequence, for example, the textbook and lab manual combine to cost over three hundred dollars. That’s pretty close to the tuition and fees for the course.

Some professors use free e-books, data bases and web sites, such as Khan Academy, in place of high-cost textbooks, the dean writes. But some community college students don’t have an iPad and wi-fi.

We have computer labs on campus, but they’re frequently full. We have wifi on campus, more or less, but it still requires that the student provide the device. And when students are off campus, the cost of internet access falls on them. Given that students often do their reading and homework off campus, this is a major issue.

Mobile broadband seems like one possible solution, but in these parts, the coverage is spotty and maddeningly inconsistent. (Annoyingly, only one carrier has good enough coverage here to be a viable option, and even that one is flawed.)

Dead-tree books have the clear advantage of portability. A book that’s readable in the library is also readable in the cafeteria, on the bus, or at home, and at no additional cost. It doesn’t require the student to invest in infrastructure beyond a backpack and maybe a lamp.

As mobile broadband coverage improves, colleges will be able to lease 3G (or 4G) computers to students, the dean writes. “For now, freebies are only free if you can afford them.”