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Beginning of the end for $100 college textbooks: Legislature, colleges, Gates Foundation partner

October 31, 2011

Two and a half years ago I worked night and day during my first legislative session to secure $1.2 million in the state budget for a comprehensive investment in open courseware, open libraries and technology at our community and technical colleges. Those dollars have been translated into programs that save students millions while helping, faculty, administrators and taxpayers. Here’s a blog post about the initial investment:

Today the following statement was released by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Gates Foundation and my office.


OLYMPIA, Wash. – Last fall, teams of faculty, instructional designers, and librarians set out to arm the 81 highest-enrolled community and technical college courses with high-quality, low-cost educational materials that will cost students no more than $30 per class per term.
Today [Monday, Oct. 31] during a telephone press conference, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) announced the launch of the Open Course Library (OCL), rolling out expertly-developed materials for the first 42 of 81 courses likely to dramatically reduce textbook costs for students in the state and nation.

The customizable materials — including textbooks, syllabi, course activities, readings, assessments — will be freely available online under an open license for use by the state’s 34 public community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and anyone else in the world.

The combined 81 courses represent more than 410,000 class enrollments across the state’s public community and technical college system. If all the colleges in the system adopted the courses, potential textbook savings to students could amount to $41 million annually.
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Washington State Legislature, the OCL aims to not only lower textbook costs, but to improve college completion rates, which ultimately leads to better job prospects.

“For employers, it’s about up-skilling the labor force,” said Shaunta Hyde, State Board member and director of Global Aviation Policy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Open Educational Resources will help people earn industry-recognized degrees and credentials more quickly at lower cost. Evidence shows the burden of high college expenses can impact student success and degree completion. So the Open Course Library is good for business and leads to an improved employment outlook for students.”

According to the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the program is already expected to pay for itself within one year. “The 42 faulty who developed these courses and their departments will save students an estimated $1.26 million during the 2011-2012 school year alone,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs. The first wave of courses cost $1.18 million to create. “Imagine the savings with the materials now available to the rest of the world.”

Each course has been peer-reviewed and checked by a team that includes accessibility and global education experts. Use of these materials is not mandated, but some faculty and departments with early access to the materials are now moving to adopt Open Course Library courses.

This fall, the mathematics department at Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash. began using the Calculus I course in place of an expensive, traditional textbook.

“I supported and promoted my division’s adoption of the text by David Lippman and Melonie Rasmussen primarily because it is, in my opinion, the best pre-calculus text available. Even those in the division who might disagree, ranked it no lower than second,” said Michael Kenyon, the department’s coordinator. “Our two main criteria for choosing textbooks are quality and price. And there’s no contest on price. The authors have simply written a better book at a much better price.

“It’s not often that government gets this right,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, Washington State 36th District (D-Seattle) and champion of open education resources. “This is a significant state investment in this era of massive budget cuts. We had little choice but to seize the opportunity of this crisis to challenge the status quo of the old-style cost model in both K-12 and higher education.”

Another 39 courses will be developed in 2012 and released in early 2013.

“The public speaking class with Dr. Phil Venditti used the Open Course Library. It was the least expensive and most beneficial course I have taken, since the course materials cost us no more than $30 out of pocket,” said Lindsey Cassels, Clover Park Technical College medical esthetics student. “It is outrageous for students to pay $200 or more per textbook. In a four-quarter program, having to spend nearly $3,000 per year just on textbooks is enough to make students drop out of college.”

Want to learn more?

Open Course Library
Open Course Library FAQs
Student Public Interest Research Groups
Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Rep. Reuven Carlyle:

It is my full intention to use this successful launch to move forward with Open Educational Resources throughout Washington State. My hope and expectation is that other states will rapidly embrace this strategy.

Your partner in service,


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Gene Lipitz permalink
    October 31, 2011 8:33 am

    Real progress that has a positive effect on citizens. Congratulations!

  2. Russ Harper permalink
    October 31, 2011 10:55 am

    My guess is that the decline of textbook publishers may be like that of encyclopedia publishers. But still, I wonder, what were the barriers to doing this before? Who will maintain the content, and what is the incentive to do so?

    In other words – what will replace the function of the publisher and why will it be successful over the long haul?

  3. Charlie Mas permalink
    November 1, 2011 5:02 am

    Mr. Harper asks a good question: who will maintain the content?

    I would answer his question with some questions of my own:

    1. How much maintenance does the content require? Does there really need to be a new edition of a Latin textbook? Has Latin changed that much? Why would there be a 36th edition of a Latin textbook? Likewise, calculus has not changed, what maintenance does the textbook require? In truth, only a few texts require any maintenance. What we have mostly seen from publishers has been transparent efforts to make older editions – available used – obsolete for no other purpose than to sell the new edition.

    2. What is the incentive to do so? Where is the incentive to create original texts or to update the few that require it? People who do this work do it because they love it. There is no incentive to write open source code, yet people do it. There is no incentive to write Wikipedia articles, yet people do it.

    3. What will replace the function of the publisher? The function of the publisher, in this case, is to certify the quality of the text and to distribute it. In the example sited by Mr. Carlyle, that role is being filled by Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.


  1. Beginning of the end for $100 college textbooks: Legislature, colleges, Gates Foundation partner | TheNewsChef
  2. OER from Washington state schools « New Learning Resources, a NITLE initiative
  3. 2011 The Year of Open « Paul Stacey
  4. OER K-12 Bill Passes in Washington State - Creative Commons
  5. A Review of Open Education in 2011 | Classroom Aid

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