Chopping the Price of College Textbooks

  • Education
  • 2012

College students shelled out an average of more than $1,200 each for books and supplies in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the College Board. In many basic subjects like introductory economics, biology, and statistics, a single textbook can cost up to $200. A new philanthropic product is now changing that. OpenStax College, established at Rice University with philanthropic funding from the Arnold, Hewlett, Gates, Maxfield, and 20 Million Minds foundations, creates open-source, peer-reviewed textbooks for today’s most popular college classes and encourages professors to assign them so students can take advantage of their being free online and low-cost in print versions. Each title covers all the topics taught in a standard course, in the usual order, but professors who want to instruct somewhat differently can also customize the text to match their lessons. Thanks to a $6 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2013, OpenStax is now in the midst of doubling its offerings, with new textbooks in pre-calculus, chemistry, U.S. history, and psychology on the way. The initial goal is offering free texts for the nation’s 25 most-attended college courses. Creating each new textbook costs more than $500,000. But with strong donor support, and a distribution deal with the National Association of College Stores, OpenStax is on the way to its goal of supplying 10 million students with free or low-cost textbooks—saving them $750 million.