The Cheapest Textbooks in the Land?

Any college student can tell you that paying for text books will put a pretty serious dent in your wallet. If you're in the sciences, technology, or law school, you're really shelling out some serious cash at the campus bookstore, and let's face it: the library is pretty worthless when the entire class is trying to get their hands on the exact same book.

Student PIRG found that 7 in 10 students have not bought at least 1 required textbook for a class because of the cost and Public Agenda found that 6 out of 10 college drop outs said that textbook costs had effected them financially. Luckily, some people are taking notice. Finally, after decades of students have worked themselves to the bone and worn kid gloves every time they open the 9th Edition of Biological Science as edited by J. Smith, a promising solution has arrived courtesy of one very rich couple and a forward thinking state.

The couple: who else but Bill and Melinda Gates? The state: Washington. How they did it: the wonders of a new Open Course Library. Students at 34 community and technical colleges can get their syllabi, readings, activities, and text books through the new site. While the program is limited to these community and technical schools now, the state is thinking about adopting it statewide, where it would save a projected $42 million a year according to eCampus News.

You may be thinking: "So what? I don't go to one of those schools. How can this help me?" Well, there are some other alternatives to selling your first born child for a set of new textbooks.

There's the ever-present (at least to this Humanities student) course packet that must be picked up at some inevitably out of the way print shop, costs around $40 bucks, and is usually filled with a bunch of articles that are too dark. Not to mention the lucky readings where the print shop employee decided to get creative and copy the entire page diagonally so that half the copy is missing. But hey, they're cheaper than regular textbooks and at least you know you're not the only one who didn't understand the reading that day!

Or you could always go the online route and buy or rent your textbooks digitally. This would be a great option except for a few snags: they're not really that cheap, you still can't highlight or take notes in the margins, and the selection is just not that great. It might work for a class or two, but chances are you're going to have a hard time getting all your books for a semester online. Some companies have more selection than others, though, And, if you rent, what happens when you need a quick refresher on kidney function the semester after you've already returned your rented book?

Then there's the whole buy-back thing, which I don't think we even need to get into: no highlighting, no real cash back and tons of anxiety every time you touch the dang book. (Trust me, I know. I used to work at one of those buy back counters and they're not lying: the old edition of a textbook is pretty much worthless. What they're not telling you, is that they're also making a pretty penny. But you probably figured that out the second you paid almost full price for a USED textbook.)

The good news is that Open Courseware is catching on. The more states, non-profits, students, and colleges that start using it, the more textbooks will be available through it. The more books available, the less you pay. Not to mention, that free access to textbooks and course materials benefits everyone.

Do you have any experience with Open Courseware? What did you think?

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