Students could save millions on open source texts

SEATTLE (AP) - College students in Washington state will be the first beneficiaries of a state project to make inexpensive, open source textbooks available for the most popular college classes.

But the $1 million the state invested in creating educational materials for 42 classes will benefit more than just students in Washington. That money was matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The course materials will be available to any college that wants to use them around the world, as long as they promise to not charge students more than $30 to get printed copies of the materials. Students who choose to use the books online and not get a hard copy can use them for free. Either way, students will potentially save hundreds of dollars a course.

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges estimates the program could save students more than $1 million this school year if just the course designers use the nearly free books. If instructors across the state offering classes from U.S. history to statistics adopt the books, it could save students tens of millions of dollars.

Michael Kenyon, a math instructor at Green River Community College, said he is using the open source materials for a pre-calculus course this fall. His college compared the nearly free textbook with others on the market and decided the quality was similar and the price was much better.

"In my eyes, there was really no contest there," Kenyon said.

Lindsey Cassels, a student at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, said she has taken one class with an open source text book. Not only did it save her money, but she said it was a lot easier to call up the book on her computer than to lug around heavy text books.

She said the savings could encourage more adults to go back to school and help them avoid student loans. Since community college tuition is relatively inexpensive, buying books represents a larger part of college costs than at four-year schools, Cassels noted.

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said he planned to take aim next legislative session on K-12 books. He estimated that idea could save school districts millions of dollars, save children from having to carry heavy books back and forth to school and make sure schools have the most up-to-date books possible.

Justin Hamilton, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said the Washington state effort was groundbreaking for the nation.

"Lowering college costs increases a student's ability to take more courses, finish their degree on time, and enter the workforce prepared for success in a global economy. That's not just good for them, it's good for the country," he said.