The one that got away: Open textbooks

I pulled these paragraphs from my Commission testimony in the interest of time and not blurring my central message (higher education needs to stay in step with society). I submitted this recommendation to the Commission separately, and thought you might enjoy it. I would appreciate comments / thoughts:

Affordability. Part of the rising cost of higher education for students is the ever-increasing cost of textbooks – textbooks can add as much as $1000 per year to the cost of college. The National Association of College Bookstores says prices of college textbooks have risen nearly 40 percent in the past five years. In a survey of textbooks by the California Student Public Interest Research Group, new editions of textbooks cost 58 percent more than previous versions, with an average cost of over $100 per book. (Crane, 2004; Pressler, 2004). The impact of these costs is especially severe on low-income students. According to the General Accounting Office, the costs of textbooks represents 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees at public four year schools, and almost a full three quarters of the cost of tuition and fees at 2 year public schools where low-income students are more likely to enroll (Bershears, 2005).

Frankly, the textbook situation is wreaking havoc on teaching and learning practices on our campuses, with as many as 43 percent of students foregoing the purchase of required textbooks due to financial considerations (Crane, 2004). When less than three in five students in a class have the materials they need to support their learning, there must be an acute impact on educational effectiveness.

While efforts like the OpenCourseWares are making great strides in providing curriculum materials in an open way, the development of open textbooks that could be voluntarily adopted by university faculty has been very slow to occur.

Recommendation: The Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the NIH, and other entities with a vested interest should create competitive grant programs for the creation of open access textbooks for high enrolling courses and other classes in topics of national interest. Digital copies of these texts should be licensed with an open access license such as a Creative Commons license or simply placed in the public domain. Local copy stores (e.g., Kinko’s) or online print-on-demand publishers (e.g., can print and bind the books if a teacher or students desires. The competitive nature of the grants will insure a high quality of content and great degree of innovativeness in accompanying supplementary materials (like simulations or interactive tutors).

This is the kind of “open infrastructure” for teaching and learning that would greatly speed the pace of teaching and learning innovation.