College costs big bucks. Tuition, food, a place to stay, fees and course materials all pile up.
Some of this is unavoidable, but a movement to cut the cost of textbooks has the potential to save students serious money.
At Blue Mountain Community College, the move toward what are known as open educational resources has saved students an estimated $1 million over the past two years, the East Oregonian reported last week.
Those savings are especially impressive in the context of how much textbooks can cost.
A typical textbook and lab manual for college-level human anatomy and physiology, for example, has a list price of about $450 and even with discounts, those books will set a student back $295 on Amazon.
By comparison, a student in a class that adopts a similar textbook published by OpenStax College pays $0.
The high cost of traditional textbooks has measurable downsides.
Research has found 70 percent of students have opted against buying a too-costly textbook and that about a fifth of students opt against taking a particular class because of the cost of books.
As well, textbook costs are rising faster than inflation, up 1,000 percent since the 1970s, the EO reports.
Huge amounts of money are in play — the textbook industry is worth between $7 billion and $14 billion, depending on whose estimate you believe.
The National Association of College Stores reports authors may get up to 12 percent of sales. Extrapolating from the $98 average cost of a textbook reported by the EO, that would mean an author would need to sell 4,000 books per year to make about $47,000 annually. This is not a recipe for getting rich, unless you are a publishing company: They take home 77 percent of the money from book sales.
Not every field has readily available open-source, free textbooks, and at some colleges there is some cultural resistance among faculty to making the move, notes BMCC’s vice president of instruction, John Fields.
But he’s found faculty at the local college open to change, and BMCC continues to build momentum toward a collegewide goal of keeping costs for materials to $40 per class. That can still add up, but is a more reachable figure than $300 or more.