Open textbooks provide cheaper alternative for students

By Chau Tang

College is like a sponge for students because they want to absorb as much information as they possibly can. That can be tough if students do not buy or rent the textbook and are hesitant because of the cost.

According to, the average student spends more than $1,000 per year on books. Keep in mind that tuition at Cleveland State University is approximately $5,000 per semester.

While the costs for textbooks are high, students do not use the entire book. Professors often only use a couple of chapters from the textbook, while some professors won’t use it at all.

A possible alternative to these expensive books is open textbooks.

According to, more than half of U.S. colleges and universities are using open textbooks.

Open textbooks are free and online so they can be easily accessed.

“The U.S. Congress added a $5 million open textbook grant program,” according to, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Sources Coalition.

Open textbooks have an open license. It’s called Creative Commons, and that allows any user to share the book freely. The user can even change or update the book without the authors permission.

With a Creative Commons License, people are free to copy, share, keep, edit, use and mix. Although, on the page, there are different symbols people need to pay attention to.

For example, a symbol with a person on it means someone can adjust the textbook as long as they credit the original author, and an equal sign means not allowing someone to change the content, but allowing redistribution.

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Not only can students change or update the open textbooks, but professors can as well so the texts fit their curriculum.

At Cleveland State, professors are not pressured to use open textbooks, but they are encouraged, explained Mandi Goodsett, a librarian at the Michael Schwartz Library.

“We still respect academic freedom. The faculty members can choose what they think is best. If they think the regular stuff is better, then they should use it,” Goodsett said. “More and more faculties didn’t know this was an option. It’s better for students because they have it and will refer classwork to it.”

Open textbooks mean more students will have it on the first day instead of waiting to see if it is necessary to have the physical copy because the costs can be a barrier.

The content can be the same, but it depends on if the professor wants to add or not use some of the chapters.

“Open textbooks are written by faculty so in theory, the content could be exactly the same versus a commercial textbook,” Goodsett said

The University of California received a $4.9 million grant from U.S. Department of Education to fund an open textbook program. Ohio does not currently have open textbook grants, but states such as Georgia and California do.

“I think Ohio is behind actually,” Goodsett said. “In those states and some others, they have a Z degree [zero cost degree], so students would not have to pay for their course materials in their general education classes.”

“We’ve been working on this for five years now to try to encourage faculty to learn about it,” Goodsett said.

The library has a grant for faculty, the Textbook Hero Awards. When they apply, they can receive a $500 grant to adopt an open textbook and $1,000 for the professors to change or to make an entirely new textbook. Since this can take a lot of time, the grant helps reimburse faculties for their time.

“We’ve had 14 faculty  go through that process. They got the grant, and now it’s free for students,” Goodsett said.

She has also been working inform student leaders about open textbook programs.

“I approached Samia Shaheen, president of Student Government Association (SGA). She  was excited about spreading awareness about open textbooks,” Goodsett said. “We were approached by Jovana Hanna, a senator for SGA, and [she] asked to do a project with us. SGA will be offering a Textbook Hero Award for faculty members who work hard to bring the cost of textbooks down.”

SGA is surveying students for their opinions about textbook affordability in general and the use of open-access material.

“One of SGA’s goals is to advocate for our fellow students’ access to affording learning materials,” Shaneen said.


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