As a recent state report shows, the rate of Hoosier high school graduates going to college is at its lowest point in recent history. For some, it’s the cost keeping them out of classrooms. And a surprisingly high cost is textbooks. But an Indiana initiative is trying to change that, by encouraging college professors to use free open-source textbooks. As IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, it’s seeing savings for students.
The program is PALSave, run by the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana. It’s operating through funding by the Lily Endowment. The free course materials include open-source textbooks and library e-books.
Lori Watson teaches chemistry at Earlham College in Richmond. For her introduction to chemistry class, she traded a $200 textbook for a free open-resource digital textbook and $20 digital workbook with the same concepts and learning goals. And for once, students have had positive things to say about the textbook.
“They could access it from anywhere. They liked the price. And they liked the idea that this was open-source and was accessible to everyone wherever they were, whatever circumstances they found themselves in.”
Earlham says 155 students on its campus took classes with free course materials during the 2019-2020 academic year. That saved them collectively $12,356.67.
Watson says for this class, which is typically a first semester of first year course, accessibility is important.
“Students are figuring out college and how to get a campus job and manage their finances. And to come into that course already having the resources that you need to start right off the bat, I think, is a really powerful reason to use these kind of open-source resources.”
The top three schools participating in the program include Earlham, Marian University, and Goshen College. All are private colleges that cost more than $40,000 in tuition, room, and board a year, before financial aid. They all estimate that students will spend more than $1,000 on books each year.