How One Rice Professor Thinks College Textbooks Can Be Free

OpenStax screengrab
This week at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, major companies showed off their newest gadgets and the next wave of technology. That includes the digital future of college textbooks according to one professor from Houston.

The most common college textbooks are thick, heavy and expensive.

One book can cost $200-300. And the cost keeps going up, about 6 percent a year.

“A crisis in the educational world, a crisis of access.”

That’s Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk. He and other educators are trying to change the textbook industry — especially the expensive part.

He’s developed an online textbook publisher at Rice called OpenStax.

It’s working to offer 25 of the most common college textbooks — for free.

“Textbooks for the big introductory classes, like physics, calculus, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics. Books for the kind of courses that many hundreds of thousand students take every year.”

These free textbooks are also open source — similar to the way certain computer software can be open source.

“So that means faculty anywhere are free to take our materials, customize them, edit them, improve them and repackage them in a way so that their class can have the perfect book, rather than just a book picked off the rack.”

Developing those books isn’t totally free though. OpenStax is funded with major donations.

Venture philanthropists have invested more than $10 million in the project — which is seeking more money to expand its library.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...