As the elections pick up steam across the country, the phrase “free college” is making headlines. College tuition increased at 260 percent the rate of inflation since 1980, but what is more staggering is that textbook costs increased by 812 percent during the same period. At Occidental College, the $250 required textbook in one of my political science courses prompted my classmates to spend hours of their week printing out sections of the text from the few who had it.
But this situation is not uncommon, either: in a recent Student PIRG national survey, 63 percent of students skipped buying or renting a textbook. However, students find ways around this problem by purchasing used books, renting library copies and sharing with classmates. Unfortunately, publishing companies have been cracking down on these price-saving methods by bundling single-use access codes with the textbook. These codes are needed to access homework, assigned texts, and even tests.
The solution is open textbooks. Open textbooks are written under an open license, allowing them to be freely shared, and professors can adapt them for their classes. Classes that use open textbooks have seen increased student performance and completion. It is no surprise that students will read books they can afford. This alternative school resource is by no means a novel idea. University of Massachusetts Amherst and Rutgers University have instituted programs to facilitate the switch from traditional textbooks to open ones. These programs have already saved students millions of dollars.
The easiest step to reducing unnecessary college expenditures is to reduce textbook costs, and there is already a solution that has been shown to work: open textbooks. We need more colleges to implement this switch to ensure all students are able to get the materials they need to succeed.