The SA meeting April 28 saw a presentation and discussion regarding an issue most students are all too familiar with — the excessive costs of college textbooks.
Senior Assistant Librarian Malina Thiede of the Feinberg Library and Open Educational Resources intern Katie Sheehy delivered a presentation outlining this rapidly worsening problem. They pointed out that according to the Bureau of Labor, textbook prices have risen by almost 1000% in recent years and that individual textbooks can cost between $200 and $400.
“It’s very worrying that textbook prices have been skyrocketing like this recently,” Thiede said. “65% of students skipped buying or renting a textbook because they’re so expensive.”
They discussed other concerning statistics regarding the effect of textbook prices on learning and performance, citing a survey by popular textbook publisher, Cengage. According to the survey, 43% of students surveyed skipped meals because of textbook costs. 70% took on a part-time job and 30% had to take fewer classes.
The presentation included a Sticky Note activity in which students can talk about how high textbook costs affected them. The notes included experiences such as “I got a lower score on a course than I would have because I could not afford the textbook” and “I had to reach out to other students for pictures of the textbook pages.”
SA Senator Alexis Larreategui voiced her agreement, sharing her own experiences with the issue.
“Textbook costs really affect a lot of students, including myself,” Larreategui said. “Having to pay hundreds of dollars for books every single semester is really stressful. Many students aren’t even aware of this issue until they start college.”
Sheehy and Thiede proposed a solution to counter this trend: Open Educational Resources, or OERs. Their presentation described OERs as being “teaching, learning and research resources that are openly licensed which permits free-use and repurposing by others.” Such resources include full courses, books, learning games, tests, quizzes, lectures and multimedia — all available online.
“OERs provide the perfect opportunity for students to learn and perform without having to worry about expensive textbooks,” Sheehy said. “They’re free, accessible and easy to use.”
Their presentation reported that switching a class of 100 students from using traditional textbooks to OERs could save up to $30,000 in total cost. It could save students nationwide up to a billion dollars every year.
In 2018, $8 million was invested in SUNY and CUNY institutions for the adoption of OERs. According to estimates, $9.5 million have been saved for more than 76,000 students and more than 2,800 newly converted course sections.
Sheehy and Thiede also provided a link to the SUNY Plattsburgh OER Research Guide, a web portal containing information regarding OERs as well as links to access them. The website provides information about various sources of free or low-cost books, such as OpenStax, Open Textbook Library, Project Gutenberg and LibriVox. Also included are links to various multimedia sources, like TED Talks, Free Music Archive, Creative Commons Search and the World Digital Library.
The Research Guide invites students to “use OERs to study for a competency exam, supplement your assigned course materials and learn about a new subject without purchasing an expensive textbook.” The invitation is also extended to faculty members, who can “adopt OERs for classes to reduce or eliminate textbook costs for students, customize course materials for students, and create OERs that reflect how and what they teach.”
Faculty and students can also work together to co-create OERs to reuse as teaching and learning materials for others.
“Students can help make other students aware of OERs too,” Sheehy said. “We have an Instagram page where you can share our posts and give us a shout-out. You can also just let your friends know about this wonderful resource and make things a little easier for them.”