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CALPIRG at UCLA members discuss free alternatives to textbooks

By Dina Stumpf

Jan. 29, 2018 12:48 a.m.

A research study on two- and four-year colleges showed that using openly licensed resources in place of textbooks could save students more than $100 per course.

Colleges that switch to open educational resources would save students nationwide $1.5 billion a year in course material costs, according to a study released by the California Public Interest Research Group on Friday. OERs are educational materials available in the public domain and databases such as OER Commons, a public online library of textbooks, lecture notes, assignments and other course materials.

CALPIRG held a press conference Friday with student government leaders to discuss the issue of affordable textbooks.

Jamie Kennerk, a third-year political science student and chair of CALPIRG Students’ board of directors, said the group is advocating for colleges to use OERs because of the high cost of textbooks. She added that OER materials are free to use and accessible online.

She added that textbooks’ access codes lock materials behind a paywall, making it impossible for students to resell their materials at the end of a quarter and try to recuperate some of the initial costs.

“(The access code) expires at the end of the course, meaning students can’t access those materials for reference, and (it is) useless for sale,” she said.

Kennerk added she thinks core classes, like introductory statistics and psychology, can take advantage of the free and open textbooks online.

“It’s high time that we take action to combat these high textbook prices,” she said.

Student leaders said they think OERs will help students alleviate some of their financial burdens.

Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh, Undergraduate Students Association Council president, said students should not have to choose between feeding themselves or failing a class because they cannot afford a textbook.

“Are we supposed to expect that information has gotten more expensive in this age of unprecedented technological advancement and information sharing?” she said.

Aaron Boudaie, USAC Financial Support commissioner, said he thinks advocates for college affordability have only recently started talking about textbook costs.

“When we first started talking about these issues, I feel like a lot of people doubted that it was an important student concern, but the truth is that it is,” Boudaie said. “Some students are spending six to seven hundred dollars or more every single quarter, and I personally believe that it’s one of the biggest barriers to higher education today.”

Boudaie said his office plans to lobby professors to use open-source materials and stop using textbooks with access codes.

Emily Fieberling, a fourth-year ecology and evolutionary biology student and CALPIRG at UCLA member, said the cost of her second-year physics and life sciences textbooks and access codes was the biggest purchase of her life at that point. She added she could not access the information on the access code at the end of the quarter because it had expired.

“When I went to sell back textbooks at the end of the year, I couldn’t sell them back because these version were no longer being used,” she said. “It goes to show the undue burden placed on students with the cost of textbooks.”

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Dina Stumpf
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