On the heels of a national report that shows college students are spending billions of financial aid dollars each year to cover the cost of textbooks, Rutgers University has launched a pilot program aimed at relieving some of the financial burden.

The one-year competitive grant program sets aside $12,000 that would be offered to faculty who are willing to develop course materials on an open-source platform. According to students familiar with the "open textbook" concept, the material would be free to students who wish to download and access it online, and there would be a "reasonable" cost associated with printing the material.

In a Feb. 1 letter to the University Senate, Rutgers President Robert Barchi said his administration supports efforts to increase the number of Rutgers faculty members assigning open textbooks in their courses.

"We are eager to find ways to ease the financial burdens on our students and appreciate the Senate's recommendation to help reduce the cost of college textbooks," the letter read.

The pilot program, and an analysis of its success, will be conducted by the university libraries.

"In implementing this program, we are joining a growing network of institutions across the country with open textbook initiatives that ensure that students spend more time learning and less time worrying about how they will be able to afford the materials they need for their studies," Krisellen Maloney, university librarian and vice president for information services, said in a statement.

According to NJPIRG Students, a similar program at UMass-Amherst saved students more than $1.4 billion over the past four years.

Janelle Melecio, NJPIRG Students (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Janelle Melecio, NJPIRG Students (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

"To have open-license textbooks available to myself would be great," Janelle Melecio, Rutgers sophomore, told New Jersey 101.5. "If I want a hard copy, it'll be less than $40. That's amazing compared to the $200 textbooks we have now."

In a report released Wednesday by NJPIRG Students, more than a quarter of New Jersey undergrads said they had used financial aid to pay for their textbooks - more than $311 on average per semester.

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