Free textbooks, anyone?

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Photo courtesy of OpenStax

Cassie Rhame

Staff Writer

OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization launched in 2012 to offer free digitalized textbooks for students. So why is no one talking about it?

If there is one thing college kids love, it is free stuff. Free food, free drinks, free entertainment—they want it all. The Rice University-based nonprofit OpenStax College offers every university student’s dream – free textbooks.

While there was hype over OpenStax when it was introduced in 2012, its fame was short-lived. The organization’s recent appearance on college students’ Facebook news feeds is bringing it back into discussion.

UWF students are surprised when they hear about the nonprofit publisher. Most had heard of OpenStax, but had not researched it in detail. The response is, to no surprise, overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

“Free textbooks?” UWF junior engineering major Evan Flagg said. “I didn’t even know that was possible. I’m so down with that.”

Unfortunately, not every textbook is available through OpenStax.

The books developed to date only include those of core classes, which are the most common texts needed by students around the world.

OpenStax stays afloat with the help of several company and foundation sponsorships. The cost for each book to be processed is more than $500,000. Rice University claimed that the organization has saved students more than $30 million.

“More than 150 colleges, universities and high schools have adopted an OpenStax textbook since the nonprofit publisher’s 2012 launch,” wrote Jade Boyd of Rice University News.

“I bought a statistics book freshman year, and it was over $300,” UWF communications sophomore Courtney Randall said. “I just wish UWF would have had these free books before I completed all my core classes. Hopefully they will get with this program eventually.”

The idea seems simple, and it appears to be working for the universities that have already adopted these texts. The organization works with publishers to hire peer-reviewers and authors to develop these high-quality texts and only requires that schools sign up and acquire access codes for their students to use the books.

Even though free textbooks sound like the gateway to a perfect world to students, there are still those who are not certain about the adoption of these texts.

“In principle, I’m in favor for students being able to afford their books, but to me, it is a lot like the idea of free tuition,” Judge Ross Goodman said, UWF professor in the law department. “It sounds great, but who is going to end up paying for it?”

Goodman said he is worried that some will suffer in their business, steering towards the idea that anything free comes at a price. “Capitalism needs to be humane, but also realistic.”

University bookstores are one of the potential competitors that could suffer a loss in sales if OpenStax was to reach their school.

UWF Bookstore manager Greg Kirby does not seem too worried, however, showing great faith in the store’s mission to offer an affordable wide range of course materials for students.

“We also share in OpenStax’s affordability mission—the UWF Bookstore delivers a wide range of cost-saving choices, print and digital, to ensure all students have hassle-free access to materials that fit their budget and study needs,” Kirby said.

With options to rent or buy used texts, bookstores are already making cuts to try and cover the needs of the average broke college student.

The interesting thing about OpenStax College is that the website offers a “student toolkit for success” that encourages students to take matters into their own hands by going to their teachers and spreading the word. Click here to access the student toolkit.

OpenStax College’s free books have been accessed online by more than 1.7 million people and downloaded more than 170,000 times since June 2012, according to their website, www.openstaxcollege.org/news.