Free textbook initiative headed to the University of Missouri system | Education

COLUMBIA, Mo. • In an effort to save students money on textbooks, the University of Missouri System is rolling out initiatives on all four campuses this fall that offers access to free course materials.

The so-called open-educational resources model will initially make free online textbooks available at 10 classes across the four campuses.

The new effort was announced Wednesday on the Columbia campus by university system President Mun Choi, who has discussed the idea since he arrived at the university system in March.

Choi called the cost of textbooks a “high burden” for students. He pointed to schools such as Rice University, which is considered a leader in the open-educational resource effort, as a model.

This University of Missouri effort builds on an ongoing textbook affordability push called AutoAccess that the four campuses adopted in 2014. That program, which happens with the help of campus bookstores, allows students to access textbook materials online for a fraction of the cost. It is projected to have saved students $7.2 million since it started in 2014.

What Choi announced Wednesday takes the concept a step further. Materials can be offered completely for free because the university will have circumvented the publisher. The plan would give students access to open-educational resource organizations such as OpenStax.

But it requires buy-in from faculty, who have the academic freedom to use whatever materials they see fit for the courses they teach.

Klaus Woelk, an associate professor of chemistry from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, said he plans to utilize the cost-saving initiative for his chemistry classes this fall. He projects each of his 1,200 students will save about $200 on their textbooks.

“Some students don’t purchase required textbooks because it’s too expensive,” Nathan Willett, president of the Mizzou student government, said in a statement. “It ends up hurting their academic success. Any time we can make textbooks or course materials more affordable, it’s a win for students, and the university is still able to provide the same high-quality education.”

Critics have worried that the quality of course materials will suffer since publishers are not involved in the process. This isn’t a concern for Choi.

Students, faculty members on all four campuses will develop a plan on how to implement more open-education material throughout the schools. At the announcement Wednesday, Choi said he plans to provide faculty anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 in professional development incentives to find ways to cut the cost of learning materials.

The goal, according to Choi, is ultimately to have all freshmen and dual enrollment courses use these free or reduced cost materials in the coming years.

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