Student activist group UConnPIRG will increase their efforts this semester in their “Action Plan for Affordable Textbooks” campaign, which advocates for affordable class materials like open educational resources, by engaging with professors and the greater University of Connecticut community.
“Our goal for the (end of the) semester is we are trying to do four to five department presentation on national findings on textbooks statistics and sources professors have on the university,” Kharl Reynado, state board chair of UConnPIRG students, Affordable Textbooks campaign coordinator and sixth-semester economics and human rights major, said.
UConnPIRG will also work more closely with the library to get an increased number of open educational resources (OER) (which are educational materials such as textbooks published under an open license to allow for free public use) out to the student population, Reynado said. The library currently has OER for chemistry and is at work on acquiring OER for economics as well.
The organization also hopes to convey the educational and financial benefits of OER to professors through meetings with them, Reynado said.
“My greatest realization was how much impact having an open textbook has on a class, on an individual level and a school level,” Reynado said. “It has a substantial impact in really big lectures.”
A 2018 U.S. PIRG report titled “Open 101: An Action Plan for Affordable Textbooks” states that switching 10 introductory classes to OER nationwide would result in students saving $1.5 billion per year on course materials.
The majority of money students would save derives from the minimization of access code requirements for classes, according to Reynado. Access codes contain a serial number that can be activated online to allow students to unlock a learning program.
Assignments and quizzes are accessed through the program, which makes it a necessity for the classes that use it, according to the report.
“At institutional bookstores, the average cost of an access code sold solo – i.e., not bundled with a textbook or primary course material of any form – was $100.24,” the report said.
For some students, the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to buying required texts, according to the “Access Denied” report.
“These high prices are not without consequence,” the report said. “In prior reports, the Student PIRG found that two-thirds of students skipped buying a textbook because of cost. Nearly 50 percent of students reported that textbook prices impact which and how many courses they were able to take. Another 33 percent of students reported using financial aid to purchase their textbooks.”
Reynado said she feels that lessening the prevalence of costly educational resources which are necessary for classes will help to alleviate some financial stress on students.
“No one goes through college without buying a textbook,” Reynado said. “It’s a cost you have to think about every semester. It’s just important this campaign is not overlooked. This is an area we can really make a difference in.”
U.S. PIRG Higher Education Advocate Kaitlyn Vitez said that the efforts of UConnPIRG to transition to OER are making the university a leader in the cause.
“UConn is already a national leader in what an OER program,” Vitez said. “They are showing what this should look like and there’s a really unique opportunity for UConn to set the tone for the rest of the country.”
Vitez said UConn’s success in the campaign is a result from efforts from the library, faculty and most notably, students.
“I think the fact it was so successful was in large part thanks to students that there’s a large open education plus,” Vitez said. “The fact students lead the charge to make their own education cheaper is really exciting. The ones benefiting from the program are on the ground fighting for it.”
Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.