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Taking a Bite Out of Textbook Costs

UMass Amherst Libraries
Press Release


Taking a Bite Out of Textbook Costs

Open Education Initiative grants save students more than $70,000


Amherst, MA - The high cost of commercial textbooks, both print and electronic, is a major concern for today’s students and their parents. In an effort to reduce these costs, the UMass Amherst Provost’s Office and the University Libraries launched a program in the spring of 2011—the Open Education Initiative—that supports faculty interested in pursuing non-traditional educational resources as an alternative to the traditional commercial textbook.

Eight faculty members were awarded a total of 10 grants, $1,000 per course, to adopt a new curricular resource strategy using easily identified digital resources. Under the program, faculty developed a variety of alternatives, from creating an online open access lab manual to utilizing e-books and streaming media available through the Libraries’ numerous databases. In support of this initiative, librarians developed a comprehensive subject guide to open educational resources.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, it is estimated this $10,000 investment will save 700 students more than $72,000 – money that would have been spent on commercial textbooks for these courses.

“These savings recur each time the courses are offered, and directly benefit the very real and very tight budgets of our undergraduate and graduate students,” says Provost James V. Staros.

Jay Schafer, Director of Libraries, noted that the grants span the breadth of the university’s offerings, from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the School of Education to Isenberg School of Management and College of Natural Sciences. “These grants illustrate the essential role the Libraries play in providing excellent educational resources and innovative approaches to curriculum support for the students and faculty of the campus.”

Hoping to double the program’s success, Staros and Schafer, collaborating with the Office of Academic Computing and the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development, have funded 20 more grants to be awarded to faculty keen on developing similar sources for courses they teach in the 2012-2013 academic year.

Charlie Schweik, Associate Professor with the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Center for Public Policy and Administration, received two grants under the first round of awards for his courses “Natural Resource Policy and Administration” and “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems.” For one course, Schweik took his own work and published it in an open access format. Students can now view the coursepack for free online or receive a printed copy for just $13. Schweik said he had wanted to achieve such a system for some time, and the grants gave him the opportunity. “I believe in the importance of attainable resources,” says Schweik.

Chris Hewes, a student of Professor Schweik, welcomes the initiative, “I didn’t have to spend money on expensive textbooks or deal with the stress of finding materials online to ship to my dorm after classes started.”

Marilyn Billings, the Libraries’ Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, believes the eventual goal is “to open education resources worldwide ... to make them accessible to anyone, anywhere.”

Contact: Marilyn Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian (; (413) 545-6891). For more information, visit:


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Last Edited: 15 January 2013