Groundbreaking State-Sponsored Program Will Save Students Millions On Textbooks, PIRG Analysis Finds

For Immediate Release

OLYMPIA, Wash. (October 31, 2011) — Today during a telephone press conference, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges announced the launch of the Open Course Library, a collection of expertly developed educational materials for 42 of the state’s highest-enrolled courses. The materials — including textbooks, syllabi, activities, readings, assessments — cost $30 or less per student and are freely available online under an open license for use at the state’s public colleges and universities, and anywhere else worldwide. The project is set to expand to 81 courses by 2013.

The Student Public Interest Research Groups released an informal analysis in conjunction with this announcement to evaluate the program’s cost-saving potential.  The study found that the 42 faculty who developed the courses and their departments will save students $1.26 million by using these materials in place of traditional textbooks during the 2011-2012 school year.  This alone exceeds the $1.18 million cost of creating the courses.

The study also found that on average, use of the Open Course Library materials would save students $102 per course, or $5,499 per course adoption.  These figures take into account that many students purchase traditional textbooks at a discount or go without them.  Once all 81 courses are available, the savings could climb to $41.6 million annually if every instructor in the state decides to use the materials.  The impact is likely to be even greater, since the materials are freely available for use at any college in the world. 

“The Open Course Library could save students millions, both within Washington State and across the nation,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs. “This innovative program took a relatively small one-time investment and turned it into a money-saving solution that will pay off big for many years to come.  At a time when our workforce is in dire need of more graduates with in-demand skills, any effort that lowers barriers to affording a college degree will benefit not only students and their families, but our economy as a whole.”

Community college students are among the hardest hit by skyrocketing textbook costs.  A GAO report found that students at 2-year public colleges will spend another 72% of their tuition cost to purchase course supplies.  The College Board estimates that students should budget $1,168 for course supplies this year.

The Student PIRGs recently concluded a 40-campus, cross-country tour to build the Textbook Rebellion, a movement of students, faculty and organizations to support adoption of affordable course materials, such as those offered by the Open Course Library.

The analysis is based on a survey of 22 of the 42 faculty course designers.  A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

About the Student PIRGs

The Student Public Interest Research Groups is a national network of non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy groups that work on public interest issues pertaining to the environment, consumer protection and government reform.