College fully eliminates textbooks

The University of Maryland University College is pioneering a new strategy to save students money: replacing expensive textbooks with free online learning materials.

“As of this fall, UMUC has moved away from publisher textbooks to no-cost digital resources embedded in courses, saving each UMUC undergraduate student hundreds of dollars a session—potentially thousands over the course of the degree,” the school announced on its news page.

The program will be expanded to include graduate students in the fall of 2016, which the school claims could bring the potential savings into the millions.

The transition has been coordinated by Thomas C. Bailey, UMUC's acting associate dean of Academic Affairs, who says the effort was inspired by a desire to counter the rising cost of higher education.

“It has almost gotten to the point where textbooks are as expensive as the cost of a class," Bailey said. "That becomes a barrier when students are shelling out that much money to try to better themselves or get [ahead] in the work world.”

Fox8 News points out that the average college student spends $313 on textbooks each semester, according to data compiled by the National Association of College Stores. Assuming that UMUC students faced similar expenses, the article calculates that the program could save the school’s roughly 64,000 undergraduate students more than $20 million per semester in total.

The changeover has been in the works for some time, with each academic department convening a team composed of a program chair, a faculty member or two, a librarian, and a member of the Design Solutions office to identify appropriate digital resources with which to supplant traditional textbooks.

About 40 percent of undergraduate courses had already converted to digital resources as of last fall, but UMUC asserts that it is now the first major American university to replace 100 percent of its textbooks with online materials.

Bailey said that while some faculty expressed concerns about teaching their courses without textbooks, others have embraced the change because “they weren't stuck by the confines of a textbook where they feel obligated to use it because the students bought them.”

Going forward, UMUC will continue to solicit faculty feedback to identify improvements that can be made to the program and address any issues that might arise.

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