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In Washington State, the End of $200 Textbooks Is Here

An online library will make put textbooks for some of the most popular community college courses online.

For college students everywhere feeling the pinch of the cost of textbooks, there's good news: the end of the $200 textbook might be on its way. A new initiative in Washington state, the Open Course Library, represents a huge step in the right direction.

The goal of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges project is to boost college completion rates by making higher education more affordable. The online library will house a collection of textbooks, readings, activities, and other educational materials for 81 of the state’s most popular general education and pre-college courses. The texts are available under an open license to other higher education institutions, as well as anyone else who wants to access them.

The effort has the potential to save students millions of dollars. The average community college student in Washington spends about $1,200 per year on textbooks—about a quarter of the total cost of attending school full-time. Some classes will still require students to purchase a textbook, but for Open Course Library classes, the cost can’t exceed $30 per student. All other materials will be free.

"These savings will not only help Washington’s students afford college, but clearly provide a tremendous return on the original investment," says Nicole Allen, textbook advocate for the Student PIRGs. Indeed, a study by PIRGs shows that students could save as much as $41.6 million per year if all of Washington’s community and technical colleges adopted OCL.

The state board is currently studying whether providing students with affordable educational materials will actually boost college completion rates. If the results are positive, let's hope other states rush to get their materials into the OCL, too.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user amanda_munoz

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