Washington State Board Launches Open Course Library

This past Monday the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges announced the launch of the Open Course Library to help college students combat the rising cost of education by making textbooks available for $30 or less. The state of Washington has put up $750,000 which was matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make the library possible.The project has been broken into phases, with Monday’s launch of phase 1 featuring materials for 42 common courses including Introduction to Chemistry and Calculus I. Phase 2 will launch in the Spring of 2013 and will add another 39 courses to the library. A team of instructors, instructional designers and librarians developed and peer reviewed the current 42 available courses, using available open source materials to put together course materials that stay within the $30 limit.

“Evidence shows the burden of high college expenses can impact student success and degree completion,” said Shaunta Hyde, State Board member and director of Global Aviation Policy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “By offering high-quality, affordable resources, this initiative will ultimately lead to more college graduates with better job prospects.”

The Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRGs) conducted an informal study which estimates that the Open Course Library could save students as much as $41.6 million on textbooks annually if adopted at all of Washington’s community and technical colleges. However, the 42 faculty course developers and their departments are estimated to save students $1.26 million by using these materials during the current school year, a full $80,000 more than the cost of creating the program. “These savings will not only help Washington’s students afford college, but clearly provide a tremendous return on the original investment,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs.

This is one of several small steps being taken across the nation to make education more affordable for students and for such legislation to get funding in a time of staggering budget cuts is truly inspiring. Washington’s Open Course Library is leading a charge that I sincerely hope gains a lot more steam, and with the planned addition of 39 more courses in  2013, it seems the Library may continue to grow. The question now is whether or not this project can be repeated and gain state funding across other parts of the country.