U of M explores free textbooks for students

Free or low-cost textbooks

MINNEAPOLIS.--The student rush at the University of Minnesota bookstore is still weeks away but it's constantly on the mind of David Ernst, director of the Center for Open Education at the U.

"Costs of textbooks get in the way of student learning," he said.

The national average spent on college textbooks is $1,300 a year and rising, according to Ernst. With three of his own kids attending college he understands the problem firsthand.

In 2012 he helped create the Open Textbook Network, where faculty and students can access about 200 quality textbooks for free. Open books are textbooks that were funded and published with the intent of being used for free. Today more than 22 other big universities and colleges like Purdue and Macalester have joined the network, according to Ernst. All this week leaders from those schools are converging at the U to get more instructors to use open textbook.

Professor Irene Duranczyk was among the first at the U to ditch her $180 textbook for an open book that is available free online or $20 for a print version. She says prior to that she often saw students come to class unprepared.

"Many students who are on a fixed budget and waiting for financial aid to come will often spend two or three weeks at the beginning of the semester without getting their textbooks," she said.

Twenty U of M instructors were part of the original pilot project in 2012. Since then Ernst said they have saved students nearly half a million dollars.

"Imagine if this went beyond that," he said.


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