Editor’s Note: This guest post is writter by Ariel Diaz: the founder and CEO of Boundless, a company creating low-cost, high-quality digital college textbooks from the best open sources available on the internet. You can follow him on Twitter @arieldiaz.
The traditional textbook market is broken. Though textbooks remain the core content for most courses in higher education, this market operates “cartel” style, giving students little choice in the products they use or the price they pay. Over 80% of the textbook market is controlled by the top 5 publishers, who use aggressive sales tactics to acquire professors’ business and then stick students with the exorbitant costs.
These textbook fees have risen 812% in the past 30 years—that’s more than healthcare costs, housing prices, and college tuitions, all of which have risen faster than the rate of inflation. Now, according to The College Board, students are spending an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks and course materials at public four-year colleges.
Though students have long found ways to circumvent the skyrocketing costs of textbooks—by not buying them, renting them, or even illegally downloading them—they shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality for cost.
At my company, Boundless, we realized that the sad state of the textbook industry is especially startling when you consider the wealth of Open Educational Resources (OER) that has been created over the last 20 years by leading educators and institutions. Top-tier universities, professors, and faculty have created amazing educational content and put it online for the public’s benefit, but this information has remained relatively disconnected from students—until now.
Instead of forcing students to buy $200 textbooks, digital content providers can put students back into the heart of learning. Digital learning tools don’t rely on professors assigning books or students making trips to the bookstore. Instead, these tools go directly to the students, giving them a choice in their textbook decision.
Beyond price, students care deeply about the ease and effectiveness of learning. While standing in line for coffee or waiting for the bus, students constantly check their smartphones or tablets. They could use those extra five minutes to browse mobile learning content. At Boundless, we tackle the issue of cost and digital access by working with a team of subject experts, PhDs, and Masters students to craft textbooks from the best OER content online and then provide it to students online at no or low cost.
Digital content gives education companies a chance to put the focus of learning back on the student without forcing them to drain their wallets. By meeting students on their own turf—online and on mobile devices—digital content innovators can set the stage for a comfortable learning environment, complete with affordable learning tools.