Panelists discuss textbook affordability and hidden costs of higher education

By Maria Trovato

In an interdisciplinary forum sponsored by UMD Libraries and MaryPIRG Nov. 28, panelists discussed how Open Educational Resources (OER) can help make textbooks more affordable.

Panelists were Kirwan Center director Dr. MJ Bishop; sophomore government and politics major Stephen Kenny; English Department lecturer Pam Orel; and UMD Libraries’ Resource Sharing & Reserves Head Hilary Thompson Head.

Open educational resources refer to openly licensed digital text or other publicly accessible content that can be used as an alternative to textbooks.

Kenny, who coordinated a MaryPIRG campaign for open textbooks, said the high cost of textbooks has serious effects on students including not purchasing required materials, or even dropping out of school.

He said MaryPIRG is advocating for OER as a way to solve the issue of textbook affordability. They do so by directly asking professors for their endorsement of the cause, talking to departments about alternatives and using petitions to collect student signatures.

“Students are very excited about this issue, they just don’t really know about it,” Kenny said. We’re …mobilizing the student body and really translating that sentiment of angst about textbook prices into action.”

Orel said she decided to stop using traditional textbooks in her classes. Instead, she takes advantage of open textbooks and other OER.

“[Using OER] gives you a flexibility as an instructor that you didn’t have before,” Orel said. “You can pull together a lot of interesting stuff that maybe you don’t have a chance to use because it’s maybe not in the textbook.”

Orel said she has been mentoring other professors who are also considering using OER.

“My impression is that faculty are starting to really open up to this, not just because students… can’t pay the money,” Orel said. “But because these are good resources and you should be using them.”

Bishop said many students and families are unaware that the cost of attending college is more than just tuition.

“Tuition only accounts for about 39 percent of the overall cost of attending college at our four-year public higher institutions now,” Bishop said. “Textbooks and instructional material costs are increasingly making up a huge portion of the budget for students.”

Bishop said OER is a great way to combat these increasing costs.

Thompson, the head of Resource Sharing and Reserves at UMD Libraries, said UMD Libraries is pushing for the adoption of OER.

“The cost of textbooks….has become a barrier to the values of equity and access in higher education,”  Thompson said. “UMD Libraries are committed to helping solve this problem by promoting awareness of open and affordable alternatives to traditional course materials, and by supporting instructors in their adoption.”

Shaune Young, a library science graduate student involved in UMD Libraries’ teaching and learning services, said she appreciated having an open discussion about the cost of textbooks.

“It’s really great to see people having conversations with students and professors and people in higher levels,” Young said. “It makes me want to stay involved in what I’m doing. We need to keep having these conversations.”


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