University of Maryland tests new free textbook program

Audio: Mike Murillo on free books in college

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 1:59 am

WASHINGTON– One of the priciest parts of going to college is buying textbooks, but a pilot program in Maryland’s schools might cut costs for books to virtually nothing.

A student on average can spend $1,200 a year on books — in fact, hitting the book store the first week of school can give a student serious sticker shock. The University of Maryland is trying out a program in which professors will assign “open-source textbooks” which are made up of non-copyrighted materials found from different sources that are relevant to their courses. According to a recent article in The Baltimore Sun, these open source books are designed to be interactive with plenty of links to other free source material and multimedia elements. With this, professors can essentially avoid assigning expensive textbooks that can run hundreds of dollars each.

The program is still in the pilot stage and is being offered in several schools in the University System of Maryland,including the University of Maryland, and if received well, it could be an option for all Maryland’s higher education students in 2015.

Could this mean the end of expensive school textbooks as we know it? According to The Baltimore Sun report, the textbook industry is already looking towards cheaper alternatives and even working with open-source providers. However, David Anderson, executive director of the Association of American Publishers, warned that textbooks have their utilities, specifically that they are peer-reviewed to ensure they are free of mistakes and are well-sourced. That might not be the case with all free information found on the Web.

Also, schools might have difficulty shifting entirely to the free model because many universities are locked into contracts with private companies that run their campus bookstores.

WTOP reporter Mike Murillo contributed to this report

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