Rhode Island aims to put $5 million in textbooks savings back in students' pockets


Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo challenged the state’s colleges today to put $5 million back in the pockets of college students by swapping traditional college textbooks with openly licensed materials.

In announcing the challenge, Gov. Raimondo cited not only the rising costs of textbooks, which have nearly doubled over the last decade. She also pointed to the restrictive licenses that come with those textbooks, which have stymied faculty from using, or improving on, the material in textbooks in innovative ways.

Openly licensed textbooks give instructors greater freedom to distribute and update materials freely online, and can make course materials more accessible for students who are hearing- or vision-impaired and require translation support.

Rhode Island College, where the governor made her announcement, recently launched a pilot program for this school year that, according to officials, has already saved students $100,000 by replacing the traditional textbook for all sections of Biology 108 with an openly licensed text.

Six public and private colleges and universities in the state have pledged support for this initiative, including the University of Rhode Island, CCRI, Bryant University, Brown University, Roger Williams University and the New England Institute of Technology. The governor and RIC President Frank Sánchez challenged all the remaining colleges and universities in the state to join.

“Last week, I met with students at CCRI and RIC who told me the cost of books can be a barrier to earning a degree,” the governor said. “The Rhode Island Open Textbook Initiative will help train librarians, faculty and students to identify and incorporate openly licensed textbooks and put $5 million back in students’ pockets.”

Officials did not provide a timeframe in which they expected to achieve the savings.

“We are excited to share our experiences and assist institutions across the state transition to open-licensed resources,”
 said Rhode Island College President Frank Sánchez.

The initiative is expected to gain additional traction from several related moves announced by the governor and Richard Culatta, the state’s chief innovation officer and a former senior technology advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.

Among the additional edtech measures the state is taking, according to the state’s Office of Innovation:

  • The Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner and the Office of Innovation will provide micro-grants to allow faculty to review and transition their syllabuses to openly licensed textbooks;
  • The Open Textbook Network, a national organization which maintains a growing catalog of free, peer-reviewed and openly licensed textbooks, will provide training and implementation support for colleges and universities participation in the Initiative;
  • The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a global coalition committed to enable the open sharing of educational materials, will provide training to academic librarians to help faculty identify openly licensed educational resources; and
  • The Right to Research Coalition, a diverse collection of local, national and international student organizations working to promote an open scholarly publishing system, will work with student government leaders to raise student awareness about openly licensed textbooks.

The governor’s announcement follows a wave of other recent moves aimed at ensuring that “70 percent of Rhode Islanders have at least an associate’s degree by 2025,” the governor said.