Open Resources Textbooks Are a Huge Help for Students, but Cost, Quality & Access Can Be a Challenge

The growing cost of higher education is a major issue for students, families, and colleges. Tuition has more than doubled over the past 30 years, and three-quarters of all graduates struggle with loan debt.

Congressional leaders have rightly recognized that one of the most unexpected — but significant — expenses associated with pursuing a postsecondary degree or credential is the high cost of textbooks. Textbook costs increased 82 percent between 2002 and 2013, more than three times the rate of inflation. This is unsustainable and unacceptable.

Sen. Dick Durbin successfully championed a $5 million pilot grant in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill to support the development of open educational resources, which can be a commonsense solution to help reduce the cost burden for students. However, as the Department of Education explores how best to utilize these funds, it is important to recognize that these resources have shortcomings that must be addressed.

While some material, such as OpenStax, is comparable in quality to commercial textbooks, in most cases, colleges must invest resources to create, adapt, or curate open resource content. There are costs associated with organizing and funding after-hours workshops to help faculty learn how to develop high-quality digital content, and institutions must pay for an appropriate technology platform to deliver the resources to students.

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