College Students Do Better When Given Access to Free Textbooks [STUDY]

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It is no secret that college is expensive. It is only becoming more expensive as the years go by. Obviously most of this cost is tied up in tuition. Another huge expense is room and board for students who stay on campus, but one of the more overlooked costs is the cost of course materials like books. Many students get around the high cost of books by simply not buying them which obviously has an impact on overall grades.

So, what would happen if schools simply gave students the course materials for free? According to a new study out of the University of Georgia, the answer is higher achievement.

The study, “The Impact of Open Educational Resources on Various Student Success Metrics” has found a positive correlation between free course materials and better grades in class:

This article reports the results of a large-scale study (21,822 students) regarding the impact of course-level faculty adoption of Open Educational Resources (OER). Results indicate that OER adoption does much more than simply save students money and address student debt concerns. OER improve end-of-course grades and decrease DFW (D, F, and Withdrawal letter grades) rates for all students. They also improve course grades at greater rates and decrease DFW rates at greater rates for Pell recipient students, part-time students, and populations historically underserved by higher education.

The study was conducted by comparing the final grades of students enrolled in certain classes between 2010 and 2016. The professors of these classes switched from a costly textbook to a free or open resource digital textbook during that time period. Researchers compared the results and final grades of the students who had the class with the expensive textbooks, versus the free ones.

They found the number A and A-minus grades increased by 5.50 percent and 7.73 percent, respectively. The study also found that grades for students from disadvantaged or underprivileged backgrounds increased at an even higher rate.

There are obvious limitations with this study. Instructor bias towards a certain resource could have played a role in the higher grades. Additionally, the university could have simply enrolled a higher achieving student body over time. But, the results do seem to follow common sense: Students are more likely to learn from a resource if they actually have it…and they are more likely to have it if it is not too expensive.


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.