Open-source textbooks lower costs

Free “open-source” textbooks are lowering students’ costs at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, writes Laura M. Colarusso for Hechinger Report.

Tidewater’s “Z Degree” program guarantees “zero cost” for learning materials, which can cost students’ more than tuition at community colleges.

The cost of new printed textbooks continue to rise—up more than 7 percent last year alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, as calculated by the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan research arm of Congress.

However, students are spending slightly less, estimates the Department of Education. More are renting textbooks, buying used books online, sharing with a classmate or using the library.

“Textbook rental programs …[have] created a lot of residual competition and forced publishers to sell digital products at better prices,” said Richard Hershman, vice president for government relations at the National Association of College Stores.

Some students try to get by without access to the textbook, said Nicole Allen, director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

“There is a really alarming trend of a lot of students not buying their textbooks because the price is too high,”Allen said. “Overall student spending on textbooks may be down, but the question is how much of that is because students haven’t bought the books they were supposed to because they can’t afford them.”

Late last year, PIRG surveyed more than 2,000 students at 150 universities. Sixty-five percent said they’d decided against buying a textbook at some point because it was too expensive. Of those students, 94 percent said they’d done worse in the course.

Textbook costs squeeze students

Two-thirds of college students didn’t buy a textbook last year because of the cost, according to a U.S. PIRG survey, Fixing the Broken Textbook Market. Nearly half of all students surveyed said that the cost of textbooks affected their decisions on how many and which classes to take.

Students average $1,200 per year on books and supplies, the public interest group estimates.

U.S. PIRG sees free online textbooks as the only way to “challenge the high prices that publishers charge for new editions.”  As long as new book costs are high, book rentals and used book costs will remain high too.  

The Affordable College Textbook Act would provide federal grants to create free, online textbooks. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) sponsored the bill in November.

The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources is working to expand access to free learning materials. Open textbook publishing initiatives by the State University of New York (SUNY) and Rice’s OpenStax College will be discussed at a Feb. 5 webinar.

Geoff Cain, who was technology director at College of the Redwoods in California, has more on open educational resources at Brainstorm in Progress.

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.

Innovating, cutting costs and data

Innovations 2013, hosted by Dallas Community College District, explored everything from educating prison inmates to the “gamification” of learning.

Controlling costs was a major theme,  reports Matt Reed, who presented as Dean Dad,

 Richard Sebastian, of the Virginia Community College system, presented a “no textbook cost degree” that’s being piloted at Tidewater Community College.  . . . They’ve chosen the Business Administration degree, and through a series of grants and stipends, they’ve convinced enough full-time faculty in the program to use nothing but “Open Educational Resources” that students will be able to get through the entire degree without spending anything on books or other course materials.

Diana Oblinger, CEO of Educause, discussed how colleges are using analytics and other software. For example,  Austin Peay State University (Texas) gives students “top ten” course recommendations for the following semester, complete with projected grades.

If we don’t have the stomach to mandate decisions, but we don’t want students to just throw up their hands at seemingly infinite options, then we can use “nudging” to push students towards the choices we want them to make. Top ten lists are a way to do that. Students are still free to go off the top ten list, but most don’t.

Using data — to teach and to control costs — also was big.

In “The Walking Dean: Surviving the Budget Apocalypse,”  Paul Starer and Lareen Balducci, from Foothill College (CA), opened with images of zombies, carnage and a post-apocalyptic wasteland to introduce California’s budget cuts and the ways it handles community college budgeting.

Dave Szatmary, a vice provost at the University of Washington, discussed UW’s low-cost online bachelor’s degree completion program, developed in consultation with community colleges. “It’s starting with Early Childhood Ed, since the Federal mandate for 50% of Head Start teachers to have bachelor’s degrees kicks in this Fall, and many locations are behind,” writes Reed. “And yes, the program will draw heavily on data analytics.”

St. Clair County Community College in Michigan is using a “courageous conversations” model to engage the faculty and staff in major issues facing the college. No, not racism or homophobia. “It was about data.”  The college releases its internal data and invites comments and questions.

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.

California bill seeks $10,000 degree

The push for a $10,000 bachelor’s degree has come to California, reports the Sacramento Bee.

With the cost of going to college already more than $30,000 a year at many California campuses, is it possible to earn a bachelor’s degree for just $10,000 – total?

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, hopes so.

Borrowing an idea being promoted by Republican governors in Texas and Florida, the GOP assemblyman has introduced a bill that would create a pilot program in California for what he’s billing as a $10,000 bachelor’s degree.

Assembly Bill 51 calls for high schools, community colleges and California State University campuses to develop a low-cost degree path in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) majors in Chico, Long Beach and Turlock.

High school students would earn college credit through Advanced Placement classes and dual enrollment in community college courses, Logue envisions. Community college students would be encouraged to enroll full time.

The $10,000 would include textbooks, but not room and board. Currently CSU students spend $5,472 a year on tuition and another $2,000 annually.

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.

Book balk

Source: via ASCD on Pinterest

California: Perform or pay

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the Student Success Act, which cuts off fee waivers for students who fall below a C average for two semesters in a row and requires colleges to provide orientation, assessment, placement, counseling and education planning help to new students. At least two-thirds of students qualify for fee waivers. Full tuition has risen to $46 per unit, still below the national average. The bill was amended to remove a provision cutting off waivers for students who’ve already earned 110 credits.

In addition, community colleges will report the academic performance of students with breakdowns by race and socioeconomic status.

It’s hoped students will move more quickly to achieve their goals, freeing up spaces in a system that now places nearly half a million students on wait lists for the classes they need.

In addition, Brown signed bills expanding digital access to free college textbooks.

Brice Harris, who leads the Los Rios Community College District near Sacramento, was named the new chancellor of California Community Colleges.

CC teaches instructors how to teach reading

Grand Rapids Community College is teaching English, math and biology instructors how to teach reading reports Michigan LiveReading Apprenticeship focuses on helping students understand their textbooks.

“Reading a biology textbook, many students will gloss over it and think they’ve read it, but they won’t take what they need away from it,” said John Cowles, GRCC’s associate dean for counseling, advising and retention services.

. . . You have individuals from the factory worker who has been laid-off and is very rusty,” he said. “You maybe have the recent high school graduate who maybe didn’t take high school so seriously. Or maybe they were told they weren’t going to make it and they didn’t try.”

About 45 percent of first-time, full-time GRCC students leave in a year, including dropouts and transfers. Of students who started in fall 2008, 15 percent had earned a degree within four years and 33 percent transferred.