Open textbooks are free, online resources that can replace traditional textbooks
and save students money. The costs of traditional textbooks continue to increase,
and this can particularly affect at-risk, low-income students. Few studies have
analyzed student perceptions of open textbooks and how they influence academic
achievement, but the emerging trend is positive. In the present study, I assessed
student perceptions of an open textbook and calculated the subsequent cost savings.
Although there were some limitations to my study, such as a low sample size, my
results closely mirror previous studies in that most students had favorable opinions
of the open textbook and would prefer to use them over traditional textbooks. The
average cost savings per student was $81 for one course, determined using a novel
method that does not assume all students buy new textbooks. These savings were
likely important to the students, the majority of whom worked five hours or more
and have received Pell Grants or other tuition waivers.
Key Words: open textbook; open educational resources; environmental science; free
text; student perceptions; textbook quality; cost savings; community college students;
Textbooks promote student success (Bushway &
Flower, 2002; Yu, 2011; Skinner & Howes,
2013), but their rising cost may impose substantial financial hardship for students with
limited income. Textbook costs increased
1,041 percent between 1977 and 2015, which
is more than three times the rate of inflation
(Popken, 2015). The estimated costs of textbooks and supplies per annum for community
college students in 2016 was $1,390, representing 39 percent of the total cost of yearly tuition
(College Board, 2017). A study of community colleges in California
calculated this number to be higher at 59 percent (California State
Auditor, 2008). Consequently, the cost of textbooks is a concern
to both students and faculty (Petrides et al., 2011; Chae et al., 2015;
Student PIRGS, 2016).
The high cost of textbooks creates less-than-desirable outcomes
for students. A survey of college students in Florida found that
64 percent of students did not purchase a textbook at some point
because of high cost (Florida Virtual Campus, 2012). To save
money, students may illegally download pirated copies (Young,
2008), buy an older edition, or simply go without a textbook
(Fischer et al., 2015). Other money-saving options include renting
a textbook, which may prevent students from annotating their
books, an effective learning strategy (Wolfe & Neuwirth, 2001).
The high cost of textbooks may negatively impact the proportion of students who achieve their academic goal, a metric known
as persistence rate. At risk are economically disadvantaged students, who can have lower persistence rates than wealthier students
(Paulsen & St. John, 2002). For these students, the financial burden of textbooks can cause them to take fewer classes per term
(Fischer et al., 2015). This is problematic because persistence rates
are also substantially lower for part-time students compared to full-time students (NSCRC, 2016). Thus, students who are low-income
and part-time are particularly vulnerable.
If textbooks are important to student
achievement but prohibitively expensive for
some, then what are students to do? Open
textbooks, a type of open educational resources (OER), offer a potential solution when faculty adopt them. OER are free to access online
or low-cost in print and thus very accessible.
Students can view OER such as open textbooks online, by downloading to their computer, tablet, or smartphone; or by printing
an inexpensive copy. Several online libraries
are now available that disseminate free open
textbooks. A popular resource for science texts is OpenStax (www.
openstax.org), operated by Rice University. OpenStax claims to have
saved students $39 million in the 2015–16 academic year alone
(Boyd, 2016). Like traditional textbooks, open textbooks released
by OpenStax are written by experts and peer reviewed (Boyd, 2016).
The two most
important features of
the open textbook
were cost savings and
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80, No. 6, pp. 410–415, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2018 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2018.80.6.410.
FEATURE ARTICLE Evaluation of Cost Savings and
Perceptions of an Open Textbook
in a Community College Science
• MATTHEW R. FISHER