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Rutgers University Libraries Launch Open and Affordable Textbook Project to Provide Relief for Soaring Textbook Costs

September 22, 2016
Photo from NJPIRG press conference

Undergraduate experience librarian Lily Todorinova joins NJPIRG for a press conference on affordable textbooks on September 21, 2016.

OAT project card

The sticker shock of buying college textbooks is a rite of passage for new and returning students at the beginning of each semester at Rutgers University. According to NJPIRG, students at New Jersey’s flagship university pay an average of $1500.00 for textbooks each year, nearly 15% more than the national average $1300.00. These costs force students to make tough decisions: seven out of ten report that they skip required textbooks due to cost and nearly 60% wait for financial aid to pay for textbooks.

With the launch of the Open and Affordable Textbook (OAT) Project, Rutgers University is taking action to address textbook affordability and improve the well-being and education of our students.

The OAT Project, administered by the Libraries and endorsed by President Barchi, will include a $12,000 open textbook initiative pilot grant program which will be funded by the Office of Information Technology and administered by Rutgers University Libraries. The grant program will award $1,000 to 12 faculty or department groups from Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Rutgers University–Camden, Rutgers University–Newark, and Rutgers University–New Brunswick who will replace a traditional textbook with a free, low-cost, or open alternative. This project has the potential to save students upwards of $500,000 within one year of its implementation.

“The Libraries are excited to spearhead this initiative for Rutgers University. We are committed to helping our students succeed and one of the barriers to their success is the 1000% increase in textbook costs over the last 40 years,” says Krisellen Maloney, vice president for information services and university librarian. “We look forward to working with grant recipients to help them identify free or low-cost alternative for their courses.”

Applications for OAT Project grants will be accepted from October 3 through December 9. Additionally, Rutgers University Libraries will host an Open Textbook Network workshop for Rutgers faculty on November 18. At the workshop, faculty will learn more about the negative impact of high textbook costs and how to integrate open or affordable textbooks into their courses.

New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) students campaigned for two years—surveying faculty, securing endorsements and resolutions from governing bodies across campus, and getting the word out with students—to raise awareness of textbook costs and the affordable alternatives available to students and teachers. According to NJPIRG, the response to the OAT Project has been very positive.

“In class announcements here in New Brunswick, the response has been overwhelming,” says Kaitlyn Vitez, campus organizer for NJPIRG at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “Students frequently applaud when we mention the Open Affordable Textbooks program and its potential to reduce costs to students. Students are coming to us for more information on how to get their professors to apply to the grant program. We can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!”

Throughout the year, Rutgers University Libraries will engage the campus on the issue of textbook affordability through pop up stations and a social media campaign. Librarians are also available to assist faculty in finding and using open and affordable course materials. The Libraries have launched a new website (libraries.rutgers.edu/open-textbooks) with information about the OAT Project, the faculty grant application process, and additional sources of open and affordable textbooks.