In an effort to combat the rising costs of higher education, SUNY Open Textbooks, a new program to provide textbooks online for free, will be made available in early 2014.

The SUNY Open Textbooks program is providing textbooks online for students to read, rather than purchase, for their classes.

“SUNY libraries have been concerned with the rising cost of textbooks for years. One common strategy, placing textbooks on reserves has high use, but it is a limited and expensive solution. We need to add new strategies that reduce the cost of textbooks,” wrote Carey Hatch, associate provost for academic technologies and information services of SUNY.

With that reasoning, the SUNY Open Textbooks system will allow students to access the textbooks they need for free.

“There are no costs to students. When a professor assigns an Open SUNY Textbook, the online version remains free of charge,” Hatch wrote.

This program has the potential to save students hundreds or even thousands of dollars. According to the College Board, the average annual cost of textbooks for students is $1,200.

“Imagine if this program could reduce the average cost by just 10%, for our 462,698 students that could result in an annual cost savings of over $5.5 million,” Hatch wrote.

Grants through the SUNY system, as well as from contributing libraries, fund the SUNY Open Textbooks system, according to Hatch.

“Currently, this program is cost-neutral, using innovation grant and library funding to pilot a new model and evaluate the impact,” Hatch wrote.

The Binghamton University bookstore had no comment about how it will be affected by the lack of textbook purchases. However, Donald Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, says that students’ interests take precedence over bookstore sales.

“Offering students a high quality, affordable education is our priority, not textbook sales,” Nieman wrote in an email.

According to the SUNY Open Textbooks website, this program is supported by SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grants (IITG), which are funded by state tax dollars.

Through the SUNY IITG, the SUNY Open Textbooks team offered $3-$4K to SUNY faculty and support staff to author a SUNY Open Textbook. Hatch said the team reached out to all SUNY campuses.

So far, SUNY Geneseo, the College at Brockport, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Fredonia, Upstate Medical University and University at Buffalo have supported the grant and the change to an open textbook program.

While Binghamton University is not yet involved, Nieman is not against participating in the SUNY Open Textbooks system.

“Binghamton University is committed to provide students an affordable, high quality education and views SUNY Open Textbook as a worthwhile experiment to attempt to contain costs that students incur,” Nieman wrote.

Besides saving students money, the program may reduce paper waste as well.

“We expect that providing access to free online high-quality learning resources will reduce the carbon footprint, and it certainly can reduce how heavy student backpacks are,” Hatch wrote.

Recently, two textbooks were released: “Literature, the Humanities and Humanity” by SUNY Fredonia professor Ted Steinberg, and “Native Peoples of North America,” written by SUNY Potsdam professor Susan Stebbins.

Plans for the program include expanding it to more subjects like anthropology, business, computer science, education, English, geological sciences, mathematics, music education and physics.

“We want to see this program grow and reduce the cost barriers to securing a college education at SUNY and beyond,” Hatch wrote.

Nieman expressed concern over the potential effects of choosing course materials based on which free textbooks are available.

“If faculty members were to adopt course materials solely on the basis of their cost and not consider their quality, then student learning would be compromised,” Nieman wrote.

However, Nieman said he has faith in the Binghamton University faculty to provide the best quality of textbooks to the students.

“My sense is that where there are high quality open source course materials available — including materials made available through SUNY Open Textbook, the internet or other sources — they will adopt them,” Nieman wrote.

With this new process in mind, several students said they are looking forward to the prospect of not having to pay for textbooks.

Zach Pehel, a sophomore majoring in political science, said he thought this system would be convenient.

“It would be less of a hassle to avoid having to search on Amazon for the best deal,” Pehel said. “It’s a very time-consuming process to avoid the extremely inflated prices of the bookstore. I would definitely support this program to save money.”

This sentiment seems to be shared among students, even if they will lose out on a hard copy of their textbooks.

“Although I prefer to study with hard copies of textbooks, I would definitely take advantage of this program to save money,“ said Hannah Robins, a freshman majoring in psychology.

With this new program in its pilot and with concrete plans to move forward, Carey Hatch is excited for its role for students in the future.

“The power of SUNY to solve real world problems with innovation and collaboration is exciting. Participating SUNY Faculty authors, reviewers, and the librarians administering this program are leading an initiative that will reduce cost barriers and highlight SUNY excellence,” Hatch wrote.