USF professors should contribute to free database

Florida state college students will now be able to get some of their textbooks online for free under a new initiative approved by the University System’s Board of Governors on Thursday.

The project, called Orange Grove Texts Plus, only has 124 textbooks in its online database so far, but it is expected to grow as more textbook authors and Florida professors contribute their work.

“The concept of this is more important here than the number of volumes we have right now,” said State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan to the St. Petersburg Times. “Over time we can get more and more authors and more and more publishers – and then that gives students a better menu to choose from.”

USF professors should contribute to the database and use it for their classes, and the University should encourage them to do so.

Allowing students to access textbooks for free would bring much needed relief to students. Many are already used to reading online. For those who need a physical copy, the project will print and bind a copy for $30 to $50 – less than half the cost of a traditional textbook.

Textbooks cost Florida students between $117 and $127 per course, according to a 2008 report. Students who take five classes a semester will pay over $1,200 a year, which is about a quarter of the average annual tuition and fees cost for Florida college students, according to the Times.

Even if students can only get some of their books from the database, they could save hundreds of dollars a year.

However, the initiative may have a problem getting college professors to contribute to the database.

The cut professors will get from the sale of hard copies of the online books will be small compared to the amount they could receive as writers for national textbook companies.

Meredith Babb, director of the University Press, which is championing the initiative, said to the Times that the involvement of professors will be important for the initiative’s success.

“The model has always been to throw a chunk of money at a professor to write a book that can be used nationally,” Babb said. “What we are trying to do is turn the paradigm on its ear and say, it’s not about a professor getting rich. It’s about affordability for students.”

USF professors should lead the way in Florida by taking advantage of the database. When cost is no longer an issue for students, professors will be able to draw from any number of textbooks as course material and improve the database by contributing their work. Educating students should be a higher priority than making extra money.