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Cracking the Books

March 6, 2017

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 29 seconds

Dear students, staff, and faculty:

KU Libraries, a leader in Open Access initiatives, asked students in fall 2015 to comment on how the high cost of textbooks affected them. The colorful responses filled a 16-foot long sheet of kraft paper and demonstrated the impact these hard-to-budget expenses can have.

“I could have paid two months’ rent for the same price as one semester of textbooks.”

“I can’t enroll in as many classes as I’d like, because I can’t afford all my textbooks.”

“I failed two classes last semester because I couldn’t afford the textbooks or find them online. ... My wage shouldn’t determine my GPA.”

Textbook costs contribute to the challenge students face to have a roof over their head, put food on their plate, and complete a degree on time. Higher education administrators know that financial stress is among the top four reasons students don’t persist in college. The pressure can also force students who do persist to make truly hard decisions. A survey last year of Florida college students shows the varied reactions students have when they encounter a steep price tag on their texts.

  • 66% of students decided to not purchase a required textbook
  • 45% of students avoided a specific course
  • 26% have dropped a course due to high textbook costs.

In the campaign to improve student persistence and success, essentials like textbooks and course materials have big impact. KU Libraries are among the forerunners addressing the concern, and are teaming up with faculty to explore Open Educational Resources — online college-level teaching, learning, and research resources that are in the public domain or licensed to permit free use.

Beyond saving students money, OER materials allow faculty members the freedom to adapt materials to their courses, the desired learning outcomes, and the students’ needs — something traditionally licensed materials can’t deliver.

Fostering a Novel Approach

KU’s guide to OER points the KU community to several sources of OER including the Multimedia Educational Resource for Online Teaching (MERLOT) developed by California State University, OpenStax College at Rice University, and the Open Textbook Library, a service of the Open Textbook Network coordinated by the University of Minnesota.

KU joined OTN in 2015, and is one of only nine Association of American University institutions and 64 universities and library systems that have signed on as members to this innovative and successful effort. A small group of the first OTN participants calculated their students have already saved $1.5 million in textbook costs. The number of texts available in the library continues to grow and now includes a KU contribution. In 2016 KU Libraries partnered to publish an open textbook from International and Interdisciplinary Studies lecturer Dr. Razi Ahmad. His work, “Tajik Persian: Readings in History, Culture and Society,” is available through both KU ScholarWorks, KU’s open access digital repository, and the Open Textbook Library.

KU Libraries currently offers grants to individual instructors, teams, and departments to help them adopt, adapt, or create these free class resources. The OER grants, available this fiscal year and the next, are gaining momentum. Already, faculty members in African and African American Studies, the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Mechanical Engineering, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology have received grant support. In addition, faculty in other academic units across KU — Music, Pharmacy, Geography, Physics, to name a few — have turned to OER for course materials. I am thrilled these faculty members and KU Libraries have chosen to take the lead.

The Leaky Bucket

Just like our pioneering faculty, I’m committed to supporting the students we have and helping them persist in their educational goals. Some of you have heard me compare the challenges of student retention to a leaky bucket. We know we lose some of our bright and talented students, and we can see the holes that allow them to slip away. Rather than just continuing to fill our classrooms with new students, who may face the same challenges including the high cost of textbooks, let’s fix the holes. Give our current students, as well as those yet to come, a better foundation to achieve.

We can rise to this challenge together. Our Jayhawk traditions of caring, collaboration, and innovation can guide us as we write a new chapter for the textbook on student success.



News and Notes

Students, please make time to participate in the KU Sexual Assault and Violence Survey. The results provide the university with important information that will help in the development of programs to prevent and remedy sexual misconduct. Participants can also enter in drawings for cash prizes.

Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, University Teaching Fellow in open studies and a psychology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, Canada, will present “Serving Social Justice and Pedagogical Innovation Through Open Educational Practices” from 10 to 11:30 a.m. March 30, in The Commons of Spooner Hall. The event is part of Open Education Week activities.  

Associate Professor of Theatre Baron Kelly, the Spring 2017 Langston Hughes Visiting Professor, will present the LHVP lecture “Earle Hyman: Pioneer of the Norwegian Stage,” at 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 15, in The Commons of Spooner Hall.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs presents Lunch & Learn with Romeo Jackson: Supporting Queer and Trans Students of Color from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday, March 10, in the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center Classroom. Jackson’s works explore intersectional justice, the empowerment of queer and trans people of color, and honoring, remembering and celebrating difference. Jackson has presented at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education and Creating Change.

The SciFlix series on the Edwards Campus continues with a showing of the 2014 film “The Imitation Game,” at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, in the Regnier Hall Auditorium. The free series uses cinema to present science, theories, and ethics issues and follows with a Q&A session and panel discussion moderated by KU Edwards faculty members.

“Education: the Mightiest Weapon” a new exhibit exploring the educational experiences of black Kansans – including artifacts from the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision — will be on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library until May 18.

University Distinguished Professor Jorge Soberón will present his Inaugural Lecture “From Policy to Theory: Geographic Distribution of Species,” at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 14, in Alderson Room of the Kansas Union.

The Undergraduate Research Center is hosting information sessions in March to help students understand the research proposal process. There will be two sessions in early March to discuss ideas and plan proposals. Sessions later in the month will work on draft proposals. All undergraduates are welcome.

The KU Wind Ensemble will perform at the College Band Directors National Association biennial conference on March 15 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The ensemble is one of nine top-ranked bands selected to perform through a highly competitive audition process. Tickets for the performance are available through the Kauffman Center box office. The Wind Ensemble released its sixth CD “Of Shadow and Light” in February.

Applications for the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity scholarships are due by 5 p.m. March 31. Learn more about the different scholarships and their criteria.

Steven Spooner, associate professor of Piano, has received great reviews for his newly released CD boxed set, “Dedications.” The 16-volume set is the first classical CD to include audio liner notes and is considered among the most ambitious projects attempted in the world of music academia.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk,

Neeli Bendapudi

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

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