Northwest Missouri State University students started spring semester classes Monday, but many aren’t lugging thick textbooks around.
Instead, most students are carrying a lightweight electronic device that can fit in a coat pocket and hold the textbook material for all their classes.
Some students will download their text information onto their laptops.
At Northwest, textbooks, at least the bound kind, are fast becoming a thing of the past.
Besides taking a load off students’ backs, going textbook-free can save them a lot of money.
The pilot electronic textbook program began in the fall with four classes and about 200 students. This spring, roughly 4,000 of the school’s 6,500 students will use electronic textbooks.
“I think that it’s the way the world is going,” Dean L. Hubbard, Northwest’s president, said.
Textbook publishers say many colleges are moving toward using some electronic textbooks, but Northwest’s plan to eventually eliminate all bound textbooks makes it a leader in the movement.
“Right now, digital products account for a small percent of our higher education business, but it is growing at a rate that is breathtaking,” Jeffrey Ho, a product manager for McGraw-Hill Education, said.
But Northwest can only move toward a bookless campus as fast as the availability of e-books allows, Hubbard said.
“Publishers don’t have all textbooks online yet,” he said. “But I would think as a realistic measure we could be totally out of the printed textbook business in three years.”
That idea pleases sophomore Mike Jenkins.
“I think the whole concept is pretty cool,” said Jenkins, 19, of Lee’s Summit, Mo. Jenkins used e-books in his history class during the fall.
“I would like it if we didn’t have textbooks at all anymore,” he said. “You wouldn’t have the hassle of messing with books. The e-book is so convenient, and you don’t have to carry all those books around.”
Plus, unlike printed textbooks, e-books have pop-up interactive quizzes and the ability to search the full text within seconds for key words. New electronic reader technology also will allow students to take notes in on-screen posted notes.
Jenkins found a few “minor” problems with the e-reader gadget that he and his classmates used.
“You can’t look at a whole page on one screen, and it doesn’t have a backlight to light up the screen, so you have to be somewhere that is well lit,” he said.
Not all students were as comfortable with the electronic textbooks.
“I always worried that something would happen, like it would crash on the night I had to study for a test,” said Jennifer Martin, a 22-year-old Northwest senior from Liberty, Mo.
“It’s a good concept, but I didn’t like it that much. I would rather flip pages back and forth in the textbook when I’m studying. Maybe it would be better to start this with freshmen who haven’t yet gotten used to studying using a regular textbook.”
Students who want a traditional textbook could still get one.
But the cost savings are hard to ignore, even at Northwest, a school that already is unique because of its textbook rental system and its history of giving every student a laptop.
A textbook-free campus would save the university about $400,000 a year. Currently the university spends about $800,000 a year to keep an inventory of about 50,000 to 80,000 textbooks that are rented out to students. Northwest students pay about $80 to $90 a semester on books.
Northwest will continue to charge students just a rental fee. But once the e-book program goes campuswide, Hubbard said, Northwest students’ book fee will be cut in half.
E-books are less expensive than bound books, which are updated every few years and then have to be repurchased by the school. E-books can be updated at no cost.
Even at schools without a rental system, students would pay far less for texts on e-books than they would for bound books.
Nationally, the cost of textbooks has soared in the last decade. The average college student spends nearly $1,000 a year on textbooks, according to the National Association of College Stores.
(Distributed by MCT)