Letter to the editor: I support the affordable materials initiative


Photo courtesy of Jo Reger

Professor Jo Reger.

To the Oakland University Community, 

I am writing to support the recent Trash the Textbook initiative and petition from OU’s Student Congress and to share my story of using a low-cost open access textbook. Last spring, I applied for and received a stipend to try out a low-cost textbook for my Sociology 1000 summer course from the Affordable Course Materials Initiative (ACMI). This class was a pilot of the low cost, open access textbook The Sociology Experiment.  Students paid $1 a chapter (with the option of obtaining them free if needed). The chapters are online and available in searchable pdfs with study quizzes. In addition, the chapters also contained audio files so that students could listen to the textbook. Because of the electronic format, the authors of the textbooks (many of them well-known sociologists) are able to consistently update the material and offer contemporary examples for the theories and concepts. My students, taking the class in the summer 2021, were reading chapters written at the end of 2020 (something that rarely happens with traditionally published textbooks.) 

The pilot class went extraordinarily well. I was pleased with the contemporary approach of the authors and the students appreciated the cost, the searchability and the audio files of the textbook. One student at the end of the semester wrote:

In my two years of university here at OU, I never paid this less for a book. It is super affordable and easy to read. I think it is perfect, and I like the fact that there are PDFs for each chapter to download. It is easy to register and up to date. I strongly encourage you to keep this book and use it for other semesters. 

This experience convinced me to continue to search for low cost or free textbook options for my classes. I have also used packets of articles available in the library as another way to provide students with lower cost options. Yet, finding these materials, reviewing, and then building them into the class structure takes time. The ACMI stipend provided me with an incentive to put in the extra time to try out using new materials. As a result, I am now committed to using a low-cost textbook. My summer class of students saved approximately $1000 in total. Those savings will continue to add up as I use it in the more heavily enrolled courses over the fall and winter semesters.

I will offer this caution — I have examined open access textbooks that I found problematic in their coverage and even with my summer class success with The Sociology Experiment, I did have to add some basic course material through additional lectures. Not all courses have decent options available yet to move away from the expensive publishing industry. The Inclusive Access initiative would address these courses where there simply is not a low-cost alternative. The university could include the cost of the textbooks in tuition and purchase them in bulk (saving everyone money.)

I encourage the administration to invest in the Affordable Course Materials and the Inclusive Access Initiatives and urge everyone to sign the Student Congress petition. I’ll end with the words from another summer student:

This was actually a fantastic way to do an online textbook, yes absolutely affordable, I would even suggest that they SHOULD raise their prices a little bit so as to encourage this type of thing in the future (5$ a chapter seems affordable). The ability to buy only the chapters that you need for the class is another excellent feature.


Professor Jo Reger

Department Chair of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work and Criminal Justice

Teaching Sociology and Women and Gender Studies

Letters to the editor can be submitted to [email protected].