NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Rutgers University has become the first of New Jersey's institutions of higher education to formally take action against the rising cost of textbooks by launching the Open and Affordable Textbook Project (OAT). The initiative includes a grant program administered by Rutgers University Libraries that will give incentives to faculty or department groups that replace a traditional textbook with a free, low-cost or open alternative. This program has the potential to save students across the university as much as $500,000 within its first year.
As a member of the Open Textbook Network, Rutgers joins a select group of institutions across the country – including other members of the Big Ten Academic Alliance – that are encouraging their faculty to use open educational resources. Like their conventional counterparts, these resources are peer-reviewed, but are published under copyright licenses that allow students to read and download them for free or to print them at a significant cost savings.
The issue of textbook affordability reached a national stage last year when Congress passed the Affordable College Textbook Act, finding that "the high cost of college textbooks continues to be a barrier for many students in achieving higher education." At Rutgers, where 80 percent of students receive financial aid and 86 percent face high costs of living as residents of New Jersey, the burden of paying for textbooks is felt even more strongly. In fact, according to New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG), Rutgers students pay an average of $1,500 for textbooks each year – nearly 15 percent more than the national average of $1,300. These costs force students to make tough decisions: Seven out of ten students report that they skip required textbooks due to cost and nearly 60 percent wait for financial aid to pay for textbooks
"We have reached a point where the cost of textbooks is limiting equity and access in education, and the Libraries are committed to doing something about this growing problem," says Lily Todorinova, Rutgers' undergraduate experience librarian and OAT Project coordinator.
The OAT Project was endorsed by Rutgers president Robert Barchi earlier this year. Funded by the Office of Information Technology, its grant program will award $1,000 to 12 groups from Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Rutgers University–Camden, Rutgers University–Newark, and Rutgers University–New Brunswick.
"The Libraries are excited to spearhead this initiative for Rutgers University. We are committed to helping our students succeed, and one of the barriers to their success is the 1,000 percent increase in textbook costs over the last 40 years," says Krisellen Maloney, vice president for information services and university librarian. "We look forward to working with grant recipients to help them identify free or low-cost alternatives for their courses."
At least one Rutgers course is proactively moving in this direction, according to business librarian Mei Ling Lo. "Students taking the course Aggregate Economics are using our e-books this semester and the savings are substantial," says Lo.
The course has a required textbook with a list price of $89.99 in print. An e-book version is available for $69.99. Thanks to the the Libraries' Springer e-books collection, Rutgers students can access and download a PDF of this book for free with one click or purchase an affordable paperback copy for $24.99. Starting in December, the Libraries will work with OAT Project grant recipients to identify similar cost-saving course materials.
At Rutgers, NJPIRG students campaigned for two years – surveying faculty, securing endorsements and resolutions from governing bodies across campus and getting the word out with students – to raise awareness of textbook costs and the affordable alternatives available to students and teachers. According to NJPIRG, the response to the OAT Project has been positive.
"In class announcements here in New Brunswick, the response has been overwhelming," says Kaitlyn Vitez, campus organizer for NJPIRG at Rutgers-New Brunswick. "Students frequently applaud when we mention the Open Affordable Textbooks program and its potential to reduce costs to students. Students are coming to us for more information on how to get their professors to apply to the grant program. We can't wait to see what the next few months bring."