Keep UP: UNG Press and Affordable Learning Georgia Save Students Millions in Textbook Costs

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Association of University Presses, the 2021 UPWeek theme “Keep UP” highlights the many ways university presses have evolved over the past decade. On this stop of the UPWeek blog tour, we’re highlighting the UNG Press’s invaluable partnership with Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) and our commitment to equitable open textbooks and resources.

A Solution to a Problem

Innovation, it seems, is the result of vast and intricate networks of likeminded individuals taking diverse avenues to reach a common goal. Along the way, those avenues intersect, connections are made, and ideas are refined to bring that goal to fruition. This was the case for the now 7-year partnership of Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) and the University of North Georgia Press.

Alarmed at the uncontrollable rising costs of textbooks, the University System of Georgia (USG) searched for ways to ease the financial burden on students. In 2004, a task force created sales guidelines for USG bookstores to address immediate concerns, but initiatives for lasting change would take a little longer.

In a 2011 report on textbook costs, Marie Lasseter of the USG Office of Faculty Development said, “A recent study suggests that one of these options, open textbooks, could reduce the average amount students spend on textbooks by 80% a year. Further investigation is needed to study the impact of recent developments on textbook affordability and emerging strategies for reducing costs, including the use of open textbooks.” Open educational resources (OER) were available, mainly through libraries, but the concept was still relatively new.

BJ Robinson, director of the UNG Press, had little experience with OER when she was contacted by Lasseter about an OER-centered pilot program. Lasseter introduced Robinson to Meredith Morris-Babb, then director of the University Press of Florida, who guided her research into how and why university presses could support OER. She also researched the benefits of OER, which decided her to take part in the initiative. “UNG Press essentially grew up with the OER movement, which has become central to our mission,” Robinson said, recalling the decision to partner with what would become Affordable Learning Georgia. “Marie Lasseter is an unsung hero. She was a real pioneer.”

In 2011, UNG Press agreed to produce one open textbook, thereby developing a model for working with UNG Press, BOR, and USG faculty to produce open textbooks for use in other USG courses. This model led in time to Affordable Learning Georgia’s partnering with UNG Press as part of their program to incentivize faculty and staff to adopt and create open textbooks that would replace commercial textbooks in the classroom. Along with Georgia’s virtual library, GALILEO, ALG would award textbook transformation grants to USG faculty who could then solicit UNG Press’s support with peer review and production process.

UNG Press and ALG Today

Since the 2013 publication of US History I, the initial “proof of concept” open textbook to be used in eCore sections, the UNG Press has published 16 total textbooks with ALG and eCore, all at no cost to students. Three other textbooks are currently leased to be accessible on Galileo Open.

The UNG Press has partnered with four recipients of the ALG Textbook Transformation Grants, which titles include Resonances: Engaging Music in Its Cultural Context, Introduction to Human Geography, Compact Anthology of World Literature II, and a current project, Latinx Media.

Since ALG’s inception in 2014, all 26 USG institutions have received Textbook Transformation Grants, which have funded 450 projects. Data collected by ALG shows awards totaling $6.2 million have returned $86.2 million in textbook savings, affecting 535,054 students in Georgia. All USG-sponsored programs together, including eCore and eMajor, have saved students over $100 million in textbook costs. These accomplishments are extraordinary for our state, to be sure, but this data, collected from Galileo Open, do not reflect the full nationwide and international reach of ALG-funded OER. A professor or student does not need to be in the USG to access the materials produced by the UNG Press.

We appreciate our relationship with ALG Program Director Jeff Gallant and Program Manager Tiffani Tijerina. In addition to running the grant program, Jeff and Tiffani tirelessly advocate for OER adoption, disseminate information on OER via ALG campus champions and ALG Featured Speaker Series, and facilitate OER adoption through Galileo Open and, now, the Manifold-based OpenALG. And they’ve extended the early model for working with UNG Press, BOR, and USG faculty by developing new open textbooks with UNG Press for eCore courses.


Looking Ahead

What’s next for the Press and ALG? With eCore and eCampus programs, we are developing nine textbooks for a B.S. in Organizational Leadership degree, USG’s first zero textbook cost degree emajor. Concentrations will include Health Care Administration, Office Administration and Technology, Public Service, and Social Justice. Seven titles are currently in the works.

We are also in the process of converting our OER to Manifold technology for the OpenALG app, the new OER hub through which users can engage in community dialogue, annotate texts, and contribute resources, “transform[ing] static open textbooks into living digital works,” according to the app’s website.

We hope that our innovative partnership with ALG will provide a model or inspiration as states continue to invest in the future of OER and other low-cost alternatives. The Clemson University Press, for instance, has recently partnered with the Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries (PASCAL) to launch a new OER imprint that will allow PASCAL-affiliated institutions to publish open textbooks through the press.

We at the UNG Press are fortunate to be at the center of a network concerned for the equity, accessibility, and sustainability of educational resources that make higher education more attainable for everyone regardless of location and socioeconomic background.

Learn more about the services we offer through the ALG partnership.

#KeepUP with the UPWeek blog tour to read about innovative collaborations from other university presses!

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