October 15, 2018

VSU Pushes to Reduce the Cost of Textbooks

VALDOSTA — With a focus on reducing the cost of higher education for as many students as possible, Valdosta State University is working to expand the number of open educational resources available to students.

Open educational resources are free online educational materials available for anyone to use and customize.

“VSU has offered open educational resources for many years, and the reason we’re encouraging faculty to work more in this area is cost,” said Dr. Robert T. Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Our students are investing a tremendous amount in their education. It has become really hard for students to afford a college education. Anything we can do to reduce that tremendous expense is going to help students to persist and to graduate.”

For the current semester, VSU is offering 283 courses that provide educational materials at no cost or that require no materials. Another 76 courses are low-cost, meaning materials cost $40 or less.

“One great benefit of open educational resources is that students have the materials from day one,” Robert Smith said. “Some textbooks can be $250 or $300 for one book for one course, and students may decide to delay the purchase or not purchase the textbook at all because that’s a lot of money. That puts them in a really difficult spot. Open educational resources ensure that no student is disadvantaged by not having the money to purchase the book.”

VSU is supported in this initiative by the University System of Georgia (USG), which is offering mini grants to allow faculty to either produce or customize open educational resources for their courses.

“By the USG investing a small amount into this, we’re saving our students an immense amount,” Robert Smith said. 

Dr. Mark Smith, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor of English, said he currently uses open educational resources in two of his courses.

“In the past, I used textbooks in these courses, but most were expensive and contained too much material to cover in one term,” he said. “I always felt it a bit disrespectful to require students to purchase a $100 book when they could plainly see that we covered only half of the material.

“I have been generally pleased with the consistency and accuracy of the open educational resources I have found, and no student has ever expressed dissatisfaction with the online resources.”

Robert Smith said VSU is exploring a broad range of strategies to reduce the cost of educational materials, including providing course materials in electronic form, which can reduce the cost by almost half.

“I’m a commercial textbook author myself, and I see open educational resources and other no-cost or low-cost initiatives as an opportunity,” said Robert Smith, who is also a professor of mathematics and has written 10 mathematics textbooks. “This is a game-changer, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see where it goes.”

VSU’s work to provide free and low-cost educational materials to students reflects the university’s commitment to student retention, progression, and graduation.

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