University's Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative making education more affordable
Monday, April 30, 2018
Textbooks prices may be rising, but Kansas State University Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative is helping students keep costs down. The initiative has saved students $5.5 million in textbook costs since its launch in 2013.
MANHATTAN — College textbooks continue to take a bigger bite out of a student's higher education budget. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on 2017 data, textbook inflation has risen three times the rate of normal inflation, while The College Board finds that a full-time student at a public university shells out approximately $1,298 per year for books and supplies.
But an initiative at Kansas State University is turning the page on high textbook costs, saving the university's students more than $5.5 million since its launch in 2013.
"The Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative has benefited more than 38,000 Kansas State University students since its creation by offering affordable alternatives to expensive traditional textbooks," said April Mason, provost and senior vice president. "The initiative is projected to save 26,000 students an estimated $2.25 million in 2018."
The nationally recognized program was the brainchild of three Kansas State University professors. Beth Turtle, K-State Libraries professor; Andrew Bennett, professor and department head of mathematics; and Brian Lindshield, associate professor of food, nutrition, dietetics and health, were motivated to make high-quality education more affordable and to shift academic culture away from traditional textbooks to free online learning materials.
The program spends a little money in order to save a lot. Administered by K-State Libraries, the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative provides financial incentives to instructors who convert their university courses from traditional textbooks to open/alternative textbooks. Kansas State University faculty can receive up to $5,000 for investing their time and research to make the switch. So far, more than 81 courses from 38 academic departments and units have been converted.
How does it work? As long as the students are not required to purchase any materials for the course, faculty who participate in the initiative have a great deal of flexibility with how they select, arrange and distribute their course content.
For example, a professor could use a textbook with an open copyright license written by another expert in the field, or they could create their own. The open copyright allows students to freely access and share the material. Faculty could also use library and university resources, such as scholarly journal articles, or create interactive online quizzes. Some use a combination of all of these.
Tiffany Bowers, a junior in cultural anthropology from Salina, has taken multiple classes that use open/alternative textbooks, including Introduction to Archeology with Lauren Ritterbush, associate professor of anthropology, and Introduction to Cultural Anthropology with Michael Wesch, associate professor of anthropology.
"They were both phenomenal classes, and it was an added plus that they incorporated incredibly useful, money-saving materials," Bowers said. "I think it is definitely the easiest way for students to interact with a textbook but not break the bank."
Private donors who recognize the impact of that investment contributed more than $100,000 toward the initiative in the 2017 fiscal year alone.
"Faculty who receive grants from the initiative to adapt open/alternative educational resources are saving their students money," said Rachel Miles, the K-State Libraries' partner in the initiative. "In addition, most of the converted courses maintain their open/alternative resources over the years, which demonstrates the sustainability of the program and student savings over the long term."
In the years since the financial incentives were established, open/alternative textbook team members have found even more innovative ways to enhance the program.
In 2015, the team worked with the Kansas State University Student Government Association to introduce an open/alternative textbook student fee. Now, university departments receive a $10 fee from students who take courses that utilize approved open/alternative materials. Nearly 90 percent of the fee supports the instructor's department, while a small percent is reinvested in the initiative. The fee entices departments to convert high-enrollment classes to open/alternative textbooks; it encourages faculty and departments to retain those less costly materials; and it provides stable funding for the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative.
"This is the only textbook project we're aware of that receives direct financial support from students, thanks to the fee," Miles said. "The student government voted to enact that support, and its buy-in has attracted attention from K-State's administration, donors and other universities interested in starting their own programs."
The initiative team members also worked to implement an open/alternative textbook icon in the online university course catalog. The icon appears next to class listings that use an open or alternative text, alerting students that they won't need to buy expensive textbooks for those university offerings.
"The Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative has experienced explosive growth over the last five years," said Lori Goetsch, dean of K-State Libraries. "Now that its value has been recognized by outside donors, we hope to be able to find even more ways of reducing textbook costs and making university education more affordable."