Updated Cost Analysis of the Open Course Library

Last updated: 3/18/2014

In response to growing concerns about the high cost of textbooks, the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges launched the Open Course Library (OCL), a project to outfit 81 of the state's largest- enrolled courses with high-quality, low-cost educational materials. Funded jointly by the Washington State Legislature and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project sought to offer faculty and students a more affordable alternative to expensive textbooks. 

With the completion of the Open Course Library's 81 courses in April 2013, the Student PIRGs updated our 2011 white paper to incorporate information from the 39 newly released courses and other adoptions of the materials across Washington and other states.  Our major findings are as follows:

  • Lower Prices: OCL materials cost 90% less than the materials that faculty members used prior to adopting OCL, saving students $96 per class. The average OCL material costs $12 while the average traditional textbook replaced was $135.
  • Massive Savings: The Open Course Library has saved students $5.5 million in textbook costs to date, including $2.9 million during the 2012-2013 academic year alone. The vast majority, $5.1 million of these savings are within the Washington community and technical colleges.
  • Return on Investment: The textbook savings have more than tripled the original investment of $1.8 million.
  • Branching Out: The mathematics departments at Green River Community College and Shoreline Community College have switched to using Open Course Library's Precalculus textbook, which was developed at Pierce College. During this academic year alone, these departments have saved students $197,395 and $162,848 respectively.
  • Projected Savings: Our 2011 analysis found that savings could rise as high as $41.6 million if the materials are adopted for all 410,000 annual enrollments at Washington's community and technical colleges. While 100% adoption is unlikely, usage at other colleges and universities across Washington and the nation will almost certainly produce even greater savings. 

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