The Georgetown University Student Association Senate approved a resolution advocating for the creation of an online textbook program that would grant students free access to hundreds of textbooks during their weekly meeting.
The program, called the Open Textbook Network, is a collection of peer-reviewed, openly licensed educational resources that are free for students to download. Over 600 colleges and universities use the program, saving students an estimated $8.5 million, according to the OTN website.
The resolution, introduced by Senator Joshua Marin-Mora (SFS ’21), passed unanimously at the Senate’s weekly meeting Feb. 23. The textbook policy constituted a central component of Marin-Mora’s executive candidacy platform in the election that he lost Feb. 6.
The program would not eliminate all course material expenses as professors can still opt to not use the program and assign their own textbooks. Despite this option, the OTN program would significantly lower book costs for many students, according to Marin-Mora.
“This isn’t going to solve the issue completely, but this is another avenue, on top of book drives that happen around campus, to continue to attack the textbook affordability issue,” Marin-Mora said in an interview with The Hoya.
Students enrolled in four-year colleges spent an estimated average of $1,240 on books and course supplies for the academic year 2019-20, according to The College Board. Textbook prices have risen in recent years, with costs increasing by 88% between 2006 and 2016, placing a large burden on many low-income college students.
Rising coursebook costs make the program even more crucial to students struggling with other college expenses, according to Marin-Mora.
“This network is really important because textbook prices continue to rise,” Marin-Mora said. “I know plenty of students who struggled with textbook prices at the beginning of the semester.”
The free textbook network would primarily help students who come from low-income backgrounds or who are the first in their family to go to college, according to Georgetown Scholar Program member and first-generation college student Maddy Langan (COL ’23).
“Textbooks are something that unfortunately aren’t included in tuition, making it an added cost when arriving on campus,” Langan said in an interview with The Hoya.“Being first gen, I didn’t know the secrets of getting cheaper textbooks or how to navigate alternative options. Reducing the costs of textbooks would be an enormous help. College is expensive overall, but when you’re paying for it on your own, every dollar counts.”
The OTN program was adopted at American University in 2015 as a part of their greater “Open American” policy aimed at improving resource access and affordability. AU students have been able to save $603,694 on textbooks since the start of the program, according to the AU’s Assistant Vice President for Communications and Media Lisa Stark.
Georgetown could achieve similar increasing affordability by adopting the OTN program, according to Marin-Mora.
“We’re seeing a peer institution right here in our neighborhood that is taking another step at saving costs for students and I think that Georgetown is also the perfect institution to be at the forefront of that conversation,” Marin-Mora said.
Georgetown faculty have autonomy to choose their own course materials. The GUSA resolution, however, will be discussed at the next Council of Associate Deans meeting, according to a university spokesman.
Additionally, the Georgetown University Library recently joined the OTN through its membership in the Washington Research Library Consortium, which shares information resources among colleges in the DMV area, according to Harriette Hemmasi, dean of the library. The library staff is currently working to maximize student awareness and access to the program.
Despite the benefits to low income students, some students have opposed the implementation of a free textbook network. The program would limit the academic freedom of professors, according to Simeon Brockington (COL ’23), who has raised concern about the initiative.
“I don’t think teachers should have to cater to students,” Brockington said in an interview with The Hoya. “If it’s a good textbook, teachers should use it regardless of the price.”
In response to such concerns, Marin-Mora said the network would still allow professors to have complete control over the resources they decide to use.
“I think one of the most important things is academic freedom, and teachers aren’t required to use open textbooks, but it provides an avenue if they want to use any that are already in the library or add to the library,” Marin-Mora said.
Resources within the network are available in a wide variety of formats, including textbooks, online quizzes, instructional modules, interactive simulations and video and audio files, according to American University’s website. Many AU professors have said the OTN program has increased academic freedom by providing them with new ways to customize their curriculums.
Implementing the OTN would pave the way for more initiatives that aim to improve affordability at Georgetown, according to Marin-Mora.
“It would continue the conversation about how to make campus more affordable for students and would show that Georgetown is taking another step at leading, along with other institutions all over the country,” Marin-Mora said.