OpenStax College’s free textbooks have saved students $30 million

Rice-based publisher’s books now used in more than 1,000 US courses

Rice University-based nonprofit OpenStax College today announced its free textbooks have saved students more than $30 million and have been adopted by instructors in more than 1,000 courses worldwide in less than three years.

Richard Baraniuk

“We set an ambitious goal of reaching 1,000 adoptions by 2015, but as of last week our books were in use in 1,061 courses,” said Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax College and Rice’s Victor E. Cameron Professor of Engineering. “Instructors and students are eager to use open educational resources (OER), and based on our exponential growth in the past year, we are optimistic that we will reach our goal of saving students $500 million by 2020.”

OpenStax College uses philanthropic gifts to produce high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free online and low-cost in print. Its books have been downloaded almost 1 million times, and more than 5 million people have visited OpenStax College’s website since its launch in February 2012.

“What was once a futuristic ideal has become mainstream,” said Martha Kanter, a distinguished visiting professor of higher education and senior fellow at New York University who championed OER during her tenure as undersecretary of education from 2009 to 2013. “OpenStax College has more than proven it can sustain its nonprofit model. It has clearly shown there is a tremendous demand for high-quality, open textbooks that serve a diverse population of college students.”

OpenStax College launched with the goal of making college more affordable by publishing free, peer-reviewed textbooks for 25 of the nation’s most-attended college courses. It launched with two titles — College Physics and Introduction to Sociology.

OpenStax College's catalog includes titles for introductory physics, sociology, economics, statistics, anatomy and physiology, and both major's biology and nonmajor's biology.

“I discovered over six years ago that I could make my courses more accessible to students if I used OER materials and removed the onus of purchasing an expensive textbook,” said Erik Christensen, professor of physics at South Florida State College and OpenStax College’s first user. “As an OER early adopter, I got the chance to review College Physics while it was still in production. It was the best physics textbook I’d seen, and better than some $300 books, in my opinion. Since adopting College Physics, my class enrollments have increased and my students’ scores on the national physics benchmark exam have improved by 30 percent.”

OpenStax College’s catalog now includes titles for introductory economics, statistics, anatomy and physiology, and both major’s biology and nonmajor’s biology. OpenStax College plans to publish 13 additional titles by 2017.

“I am very pleased with my adoption of the OpenStax textbook Introduction to Sociology,” said William Rose, assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York, Oswego, whose course was the 1,000th for which an OpenStax College textbook was adopted. “For a long time, I have been wanting a quality e-book which would not separate those who could afford the textbook from those who could not.”

Rose said he has received nothing but praise from his students for Introduction to Sociology.

“For academicians who, like me, teach from a perspective of social justice and environmental sustainability, textbooks from OpenStax College provide an ethical and conscientious option,” Rose said.

OpenStax’s philanthropic supporters include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation, the Maxfield Foundation, the Calvin K. Kazanjian Foundation, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation and Stephanie and Bill Sick.

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About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.