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Anna Burleson, Published April 28 2014

ND University System looks for answer to costly textbooks

GRAND FORKS – With the cost of textbooks at an all-time high, the North Dakota University System is moving toward another, more affordable option for students.

The average college student spends $655 on textbooks each year, according to the National Association of College Stores.

That’s why Tanya Spilovoy, the University System’s director of distance education and state authorization, is pushing for “open educational resources” – free educational material on the Internet from vetted sources.

While Spilovoy doesn’t have a funding or implementation plan yet, she presented her ideas to the state Legislature’s Higher Education Funding Committee this past week and received positive feedback from lawmakers.

“Education and knowledge is becoming something people are sharing with the masses instead of somehow making it hard to access,” she said.

Spilovoy said the most common model is to pay professors for using the resources. As a former professor, she said there isn’t much incentive now to go back and take the time to redesign a course, and she’s looking to change that.

It’s important to use vetted sources such as Merlot.org, the YouTube for Education channel and OERCommons.org, she said.

And professors and the institutions themselves still play an important role, she said.

“Somebody has to be the appraiser, and so that’s where the professors and schools come in,” she said. “You don’t want a doctor who says they’re a really smart doctor because they read a bunch of stuff online.”

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, the committee chairman, said he sees the idea as a partial answer to the problem of college affordability.

“We’re kind of the arm of the Legislature that is looking at this and we are charged with bringing recommendations, if any, to the next session, where they’ll look at financial support,” he said.