Saving students money

The University System of Georgia has been a nationwide leader in helping students save money through free online textbooks. UGA has been at the forefront of those efforts, helping its students save more than $2 million in textbooks since 2013.

Rice University-based publisher OpenStax ( recently named USG the No. 1 system nationwide at saving students money through adoption of OpenStax free digital college textbooks  in the 2015-16 academic school year. USG institutions helped nearly 36,000 students save $3.5 million. That same year, UGA helped save students over $986,500 through the use of Open Educational Resources. OERs are free teaching, learning and research resources.

“The University of Georgia is working with faculty to adopt OERs by providing faculty members, especially those who teach large-enrollment courses, with resources and assistance to transition away from expensive textbooks to open ­educational resources,” said Eddie Watson, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, which is leading campus efforts to implement the use of OERs. “It’s about increasing the quality of the course and saving students money.”

This effort is helping some ­individual students save as much as $300 in textbook costs per course.

UGA’s success with OERs comes from the backing of the USG. The Center for Teaching and Learning has received four USG grants to help fund free textbook implementation, including grants through Affordable Learning Georgia, a USG initiative that promotes the use of lower cost alternatives to traditional textbooks.

There are many types of free educational material on the web, including YouTube videos, Wikipedia and Google Books as well as a wealth of materials offered through the UGA libraries. However, the biggest savings come from using free textbooks, especially for large-enrollment introductory courses.

“When we’re thinking about how to save students the most money, it’s a simple equation: Which courses have the highest enrollment and use an expensive textbook?” Watson said.

While “free” can be synonymous with low quality, many of these textbooks are written and peer-reviewed by faculty experts. The OER nonprofit publisher OpenStax uses a process similar to for-profit academic publishers for ensuring quality.

The advantages of OER adoption go beyond cost savings. CTL helps faculty who adopt free textbooks redesign the course with research-based pedagogy in mind.

Peggy Brickman, Meigs Professor of Plant Biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and her colleagues teach nonmajors biology courses that seat nearly 2,000 students a year. She adopted a free electronic OpenStax textbook in 2013 and has been using it ever since.

Through a USG grant, CTL provided a graduate assistant who helped Brickman redesign her course for the new textbook. Realigning her class with the new material was hard work, Brickman said, but her students have expressed appreciation.

“It has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for students,” Brickman said, “and the course is much better after we redesigned it to align with our new textbook.”