As the cost of college textbooks continues to rise, faculty and administrators in higher education met Thursday at Lewis-Clark State College to learn how they can mitigate the financial burden for students across the state.

Harold Crook, a professor at LCSC, said the statewide push for faculty to utilize free or low-cost textbooks can help colleges and universities retain more students who may be in a financial crunch.

“Textbooks are a slice of the whole cost our students are facing, but it’s an important one,” Crook said. “Students manage to get rent paid, and tuition paid, and then they won’t buy textbooks. Some of them will fall through the cracks, and it can be the small part that leads to students dropping out.”

An all-day workshop focused on open educational resources — free or low-cost textbooks available online.

The purpose of the meeting was to increase awareness of the available options, educate those in attendance on the system and encourage engagement from faculty members.

The Idaho State Board of Education became a member of the Open Textbook Network about 14 months ago. Doing so presented training opportunities to employees of the state’s public higher education institutions.

The cost of college textbooks has risen more than 1,000 percent over prices in 1977, growing three to four times faster than inflation rates, said Tanya Grosz, who is with the Open Textbook Network. On average, students are expected to budget between $1,240 and $1,440 each year for books and supplies.

The solution to some of these problems could be an expanded use by faculty of the resources available through the Open Textbook Library, which offers books that can be downloaded for no cost, or printed at a low cost, by students.

Sarah Cohen, of the Open Textbook Network, said the library offers around 700 textbooks that are licensed to be freely used, adapted and distributed.

“Our goal is that open textbooks are the default choice by faculty,” Grosz said. “Notice I didn’t say every course in every institution. There are some cases where it’s not going to be a good fit.”

That seemed to be the case for Rachel Jameton, a chemistry professor at LCSC. She tried to utilize open educational resources for four years, but found it was hard to find good material through the network to teach organic chemistry. Jameton also said during that time she noticed an increase in anxiety from students who would email her if they were unable to access the online material because of connectivity issues.

But Cohen said with more content being added on a monthly basis, the options continue to expand. She also said each book can be downloaded to a student’s computer, so the material can be utilized without internet connectivity.

“That’s hugely important for issues of access,” Cohen said.

For Crook, who teaches the Nez Perce language, mythology, philosophy and other classes, he’s made it a goal to find resources at no cost to his students. Currently, the majority of his classes utilize open educational resources.

This semester is the first time LCSC has created a textbook checkout system for its students through a grant from the Idaho State Board of Education.

According to Cohen, each of the books in the Open Textbook Library can be reviewed by faculty who are members of the network. That helps others know what to expect from the books, although the ones with negative reviews remain online for use.

In October, the Idaho State Board of Education will consider the adoption of a policy that emphasizes textbook affordability across Idaho’s higher education system.

“The board believes minimizing the cost of textbooks is a key to increasing college affordability for students,” State Board Chief Academic Officer Randall Brumfield said. “Many students begin the semester without the books they need because they can’t afford them, which often makes it difficult for them to succeed academically.”

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomas.

Recommended for you