Audit: Online textbooks save students millions, but NDSU lags behind UND, Valley City in offering them
FARGO — Chase Grindberg said he saved about $100 in his intro to psychology class at North Dakota State University by using a free online textbook rather than buying the physical book.
The NDSU senior said one of his platforms when successfully running for student government president last spring was expanding the cost-effective alternative so that students could use free, online textbooks instead of buying them. But so far, he said he's only aware of a few classes out of hundreds at NDSU now offering what is referred to as open educational resources (OER).
Grindberg said he's working with NDSU's library and bookstore staff to grow the offering.
The Office of the State Auditor recently performed an audit of how the state’s 11 colleges and universities are implementing online textbooks, finding that NDSU falls behind the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University in offering the resource.
More than 250 courses at Valley City offer open, online textbooks, and more than 5,000 students at UND benefited from the resource by not having to buy a physical textbook. Open textbooks are available through an online database that is licensed to allow anybody with the right credentials, such as a student login, to access course materials.
Nearly 15,000 students in about 650 courses across the state have saved between an estimated $1.1 million and $2.4 million on open educational resources, according to the audit released earlier this year. The audit examined cost savings from fall 2014 to 2017.
During that time span, NDSU had seven courses offer the resource to 1,720 students, according to the audit.
North Dakota passed a resolution in the 2013 legislative session to research the online resource and encouraged institutions to use online textbooks and seek funding to support initiatives. The resolution did not require faculty to use online textbooks.
In 2015, the Legislature granted $110,000 to train staff across the state on the use of online textbooks. But Grindberg said the biggest challenge in expanding online textbooks at NDSU is educating faculty about this alternative to expensive, physical textbooks.
Grindberg said because online textbooks are still a relatively new resource for college students, it will take time before it is regularly integrated into curriculum and course materials.
The audit found that while the resource has demonstrated substantial cost savings for students, it may not always be a viable solution in all circumstances. Lack of awareness, the time and effort needed to implement the resource, and complexity were noted as barriers limiting online textbook initiatives.
Incentives such as stipends for faculty and the ability to advance knowledge are among the factors helping to overcome those barriers, according to the audit.