Rutgers, NJPIRG helping to reduce textbook costs

by Nick Muscavage | Daily Record | 02/27/2017

NEW BRUNSWICK - Rutgers University and the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) Students have been working in conjunction to help lower the financial burden of college students.

From left: Lily Todorinova, the director of the OAT Program and the Rutgers University Undergraduate Experience Librarian; Jeannemarie Ryder, vice chair for NJPIRG Student Chapters; two interns from NJPIRG Student book campaign. (Photo: ~Courtesy of NJPIRG Students)

On Feb. 16, the Rutgers University Libraries announced the winners of the new Open Affordable Textbook program, which attempts to provide cheaper “open” materials as alternatives to textbooks to “address the skyrocketing cost of textbooks on college campuses across the country,” according to a NJPIRG Students news release. The event was held at the university’s New Brunswick campus.

NJPIRG Students estimated that the average Rutgers student pays around $1,500 per year on textbooks.

“I am excited to report that the pilot phase of the Open and Affordable Textbook (OAT) grants has concluded,” said Lily Todorinova, the director of the OAT program and the school’s Undergraduate Experience Librarian. “Thanks to the generosity of the Office of Information Technology and the library, we were able to award 32 individual grants.”

Criteria for grant selection included the cost of the textbook previously used in the class, the number of students in the course and whether the course was a prerequisite.

NJPIRG Students has researched the issue of high textbook prices, according to the release, and last year the librarians at Rutgers began a new initiative incentivizing professors to switch to open textbooks.

The program awards 32 grants worth $1,000 each to faculty and instructors across the university’s three campuses who chose to adopt, remix or create a free or low cost textbook, as an alternative to traditional course materials, according to Rutgers’ website.

Over the two years the program has been running, $1.6 million has been saved by students through the grants, according to the release. About a quarter of professors are adopting open materials this current semester, with most of the others putting these books into use for the fall 2017 semester.

Openly licensed textbooks are available for free online and are freee to download. They are more affordable than their print counterparts and are seen as an answer to the high costs that often affect students who have to buy new editions or online codes for access.

According to NJPIRG Students, most college textbooks are written by just a handful of large publishing companies, which has resulted in an increase of cost to textbooks of 88 percent over the past decade.

The group also said that 48 percent of student-aged people who do not attend college do not enroll in college because they cannot afford it.

“Lowering textbook prices would clearly make a comprehensive college education more accessible,” said Jeannemarie Ryder, vice chair for NJPIRG Student Chapters at Rutgers New Brunswick. “That’s why open textbooks are a good solution. They’re peer-reviewed like any other textbook but free to download and easy for professors to customize for their own courses.”

The full list of OAT Program grantees can be found at the Rutgers University Libraries’ website at www.libraries.rutgers.edu/open-textbooks.

Staff Writer Nick Muscavage: 908-243-6615; ngmuscavage@gannettnj.com

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