It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 20 years since I set first went to college. I remember how difficult it was to get financing back then, and thankfully I paid off my college loans within a couple years of graduating, but I was (and still am) in the minority.
Access to affordable education has never been more important, yet tuition and fees are rising at unprecedented levels, making that access more difficult. Higher education demographics are shifting; almost half of students are in community colleges, and up to 80% are in public institutions. There is an increased of displaced workers returning to school. I can cite examples in my own life (not having a job in spite of a college degree and 13 years of experience in my profession) and those of others (a teacher I know who has been “let go” due to budget costs twice). Textbooks are also becoming an increasingly important barrier to the completion of education.
I was shocked to discover that students spend and average of $1137 in 2010-2011 on textbooks and supplies, according to the College Board. According to the Department of Education, textbooks cost almost as much as tuition and fees (72%) for 2-year community college students. This means that 42% of college costs for these students go to textbooks. In fact, textbook prices are rising at four times the amount of inflation (Bureau of Labor Statistics–http://www.studentpirgs.org/textbooks/news-room/updates/new-stat-textbook-prices-increasing-four-times-inflation). Goodness, I remember textbook costs being high, but this unbelievable!
As you can imagine, this has a definite impact on college students and their abilities to do coursework and graduate from their respective programs. According to a Gates Foundation study, this is having a substantial impact on students’ ability to complete coursework. Sixty percent of students who did not graduate report that textbooks and other fees, besides tuition, affected them. Furthermore, fifty-eight percent of those who did graduate cite the same. (source–http://www.publicagenda.org/files/pdf/theirwholelivesaheadofthem.pdf)
There is a company that has a potential, viable solution. Flat World is using technology to reduce cost barriers and increase access. Pairing open licensing and textbook personalization with a radical price model gives a formula for disrupting and 8.5 billion dollar textbook market. Books are free online, while offline books cost $35 for print and $25 for other formats. For the first time, students can choose the format and price point best for them. My goodness! If only this had been around when I was going to school! I remember how heavy all those books were, and the cost always amazed me! To have had this option would have made my back ache that much less not to say my wallet much happier!
Flat World is going beyond leveraging technology to reduce cost and using the open license to improve learning materials in two critical ways.
1. Enabling faculty to change the textbook from a book to a platform.
2. Enabling the student to consume content that suits their learning style.
Early indicators are showing high trajectory. Since Spring 2009, Flat World’s books have been adopted by 1600+ professors in 900+ schools. That’s equal to over 115,000 students. Flat World has raised over 27 million over the last two yers in venture capital to build a sustainable model to build open content. Further, several early pilot studies conducted by colleges using Flat World open textbook have demonstrated a significant (10-15$) increases in course completion rates when open textbooks were used vs. traditional books.
I have a daughter who will one day go to college, and I’m sure you do, too. Or you at least have special children in your lives. We can only hope that this company will continue to increase, and maybe one day, college students will use books like this exclusively in their classes. Not only does it cut cost, but it also is much greener. No paper waste! Or at least not as much!
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