I estimated that the average cost savings per student for using
an open textbook in this class was $80.78. If I had assigned a traditional textbook for this class, it would have sold in the campus
bookstore for $158 new and $118 used. Prices for digital copies
and rentals were taken from Amazon.com and ranged from $28
to $75. From the survey results, I estimated that 16 percent of students would have bought a new print copy, 38 percent a used
copy, 5 percent a digital text, 25 percent would rent a digital or
print copy, and 15 percent would not purchase the text and either
borrow it from a friend, get a copy from a library, or illegally download it.
The results from this study align with previous research: (a) the high
cost of textbooks can potentially impede student achievement, and
(b) most students have favorable opinions of open textbooks. First,
student achievement is impeded when the high cost of textbooks
causes students to exhibit actions not conducive to academic success, such as not purchasing a required textbook or reducing their
course load. My results indicated that 37 to 66 percent of students,
depending on the survey question, had not purchased a required
textbook at least once, and one-third of students earned a lower
grade because of it. Additionally, 11 to 44 percent of students
dropped a class, did not register, or took fewer classes because of
textbook costs. These results mirror those from a survey of 320 college students in British Columbia (Jhangiani & Jhangiani, 2017).
Open textbooks offer low- or no-cost options that have the
potential for preventing the detrimental actions described above.
The students in this study saved an average of $81 by utilizing an
open textbook in one course. Considering the number of courses
taken by each student per year, widely adopting open textbooks
throughout the college would lead to substantial cost savings over
time. These savings would likely have meaningful benefits for students, many of whom demonstrated financial need. For example,
two-thirds of students received Pell grants or fee waivers, and 39
percent were employed more than 20 hours a week during the
course. This may be why 49 percent indicated that costs savings
was either an extremely important or very important feature of
Making college more affordable would likely have many benefits for economically disadvantaged students. It is known that students from low-income, rural areas are less likely to attend
college than those from higher-income backgrounds, and that those
from lower-income backgrounds who do attend college drop out at
higher rates (U.S. Dept. of Education, 1999). Although the causes
for this are more complex than just the cost of attendance (COA),
minimizing those costs makes college more accessible. One specific
way that reducing COA could help students is by reducing the
number of hours they need to work while enrolled. This is especially important for students that work more than 20 hours per
week, which is associated with a lower GPA and more time to complete their degrees (BYU Employment Services, 2006).
A second important finding of this study was that students had
favorable views of the open textbook. In terms of quality, 94 percent of students rated the open textbook the same or better than
the textbooks used in other classes, a value very similar to the findings of other studies (Bliss et al., 2013a, 2013b; Pitt et al., 2013;
Allen & Seaman, 2014; Cooney, 2017; Hendricks et al., 2017).
Additionally, 61 percent of students indicated that they would prefer
open textbooks to traditional texts, a value close to the two-thirds
found by Feldstein et al. (2012). As indicated on an open-ended
survey question, students in the present study found accessibility,
portability, cost savings, and quality of content to be the most important features of the open textbook.
From my perspective as the instructor, using an open textbook
for the first time was a transformative experience. I enjoyed having
the freedom to control the material within the textbook. I reorganized content, added new material, and changed formatting, such as
bolding terms that I wanted to use in vocabulary quizzes. Also, in
keeping with the recommendation to move away from the “mile
wide and inch deep” approach to teaching content (AAAS, 2011),
I streamlined the text by removing material. This was appreciated
Figure 3. (A) College students rated the quality of the open textbook compared to a traditional textbook (N = 18). (B) Students
were asked to rate their willingness to take a future course with an open textbook (N = 18). The options “neutral” and “very
unwilling” had values of 0% and were omitted from the graph.