Series | Catalysts
Open source textbooks save students $1 billion

This nonprofit is helping students take control of their futures, and their finances, by providing access to free textbooks.

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More and more students are being priced out of America’s educational system, so a national movement known as “open education” is seeking to shatter inequity with game-changing solutions, such as access to free textbooks for college students.

A growing emphasis on the importance of higher education is constantly placed on the minds of young students. Yet their ability to realize these opportunities is often hampered by the staggering expenses associated with it.

Paired with the rising cost of college tuition, the astronomical growth of textbook prices makes many students’ dreams of attending a university fall well short of a reality. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that from 1977 to 2015 the cost of textbooks rose over three times the rate of inflation, totaling a 1,041% increase.

The founders of OpenStax recognized this fundamental problem growing in modern education. Now, the nonprofit educational initiative based at Rice University is leading the charge in the open educational resources movement by providing free textbooks to students. 

Rising Costs, Less Opportunity

Due to rising costs, many students have been forced into the difficult decision to forego college, or to drop out when costs become unmanageable. A CNBC study found that 39% of college students with loans would consider dropping out of school before graduating in order to avoid falling deeper into debt.

CBS News reports that the soaring costs of textbooks has made them so astronomically unaffordable that 65% of students have foregone buying required texts at some point in their college career.

Students who aren’t economically advantaged are being locked out of the current educational system and stripped of opportunity due to these unconscionable price hikes. When only presented with the option of incurring such insurmountable costs, many students feel as if their decision has already been made for them. 

The Battle For Equity in Education

For years, the sale and distribution of college textbooks has been the same: textbook companies sell books to faculty members, faculty members assign the books to students, and students are required to buy them in order to access the learning material.

Textbook companies have had free reign over pricing and formatting, leaving consumers with little choice but to pay up. There have been legislative attempts to address this issue, but they’ve fallen short.

The 2008 Higher Education Act required publishers to end the practice of bundling together unnecessary texts for increased profit. However, this attempt to eliminate unnecessary spending on bundled textbooks has been stymied by companies that found loopholes in order to increase profit.

This is just one example in which the educational needs of American students are being outweighed by the financial desires of textbook companies. 

The OpenStax Solution

OpenStax is committed to helping students take back control of their futures, and their finances, by providing access to free college textbooks. They’re dedicated to putting an end to the current model by focusing on the students’ needs, giving them access to free online textbooks or print copies at a fraction of the cost.

OpenStax is driven by the belief that a well-educated society benefits everyone, and equitable access is fundamental to the growth of America’s higher education system. Drew Carter, a student at Rice University, is a shining example of what access to free textbooks can mean for a student’s education.

Drew first found a free, OpenStax textbook for economics when he was in high school. As Drew put it, “I wouldn’t be at Rice today if it wasn’t for OpenStax. Once I realized how accessible it was, and once I realized how digestible the content was and the fact that I wouldn’t have to pay for it, I realized how much of a difference that would make.” The access to free textbooks showed Drew that his dream could in fact become a reality.

OpenStax’s mission isn’t just to provide free textbooks, but also to create intelligent textbooks. They publish high-quality, peer-reviewed, openly licensed college textbooks that are digital-first. The digital format means that when updates or corrections are needed, it’s easy to change the files, and there’s little profit motive to make unnecessary updates.

These intelligent, digital textbooks also offer customized questions and immediate feedback so they learn about you as you read. They’re then able to adapt to a student’s individual needs and preferences. It’s truly a state-of-the-art application of artificial intelligence in education.

Through their innovation, OpenStax gives students the tools they need to complete a course in their first attempt. This is empowering students everywhere and giving a new generation of learners the confidence to take back control of their destiny.

They’re not only giving students affordable access to information, they’re giving them the ability to level the playing field for all students.

Will Open Education Become the New Norm?

OpenStax’s innovative model represents a paradigm shift in the future of higher education. Students are finally being prioritized and feeling that the decision to pursue an advanced degree is back in their hands.

Diverse Education reports that for the first time in 50 years, the average price of textbooks is beginning to decrease. Many economists attribute this to the price-pressure that open educational resources like OpenStax have put on the market.

Since 2012, OpenStax has saved nine million students over $830 million and their impact is growing exponentially. Open education resources are the new norm and OpenStax is leading the way.

Students around the country, like Drew Waters, are tired of allowing their education to take a backseat to corporate greed. “I’ve met students who have dropped a class simply because they could not afford the textbooks needed to succeed in the course,” states Drew.

OpenStax intends to make student stories like these a thing of the past. With free textbooks and a commitment to tearing down educational barriers, the organization is empowering students to take control of their futures.

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