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Chemeketa Press expected to save students $350,000

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By Michael Eubanks

If there’s one thing that most students can agree on, it’s that the cost of textbooks are painfully high.

Some textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars, making an affordable education impossible for many students.

Fortunately, the Chemeketa Press has been creating low-cost textbooks that can save students thousands of dollars each school year. The press saved students approximately $150,000 last year and is expected to save students an estimated $350,000 this year.

Steve Richardson, the head editor of the press, originally proposed the idea of the press to the college’s administration two years ago. “The idea was to use existing open-source textbooks and print-on-demand technology to create affordable printed replacements for commercial textbooks,” Richardson said.

Last year, the Press issued its first three books: Art for Everyone (which is used for ART-101), Freedom and Responsibility (WR-90 and WR-115) and Elementary Algebra (MTH-70). The first two have had their final editions printed this fall, and the third is still undergoing beta testing.

Each book takes approximately two years to finish. The beta version can take six months to a year to write. Then it’s published and used during an academic year to collect feedback from students and staff to improve the final version.

Richardson said that the current goal is to produce low-cost alternatives to the books that are in highest demand in order to recoup the costs of printing. However, sales aren’t the only source of funding the press receives, and Richardson expects to be able to fund more niche projects later down the road.

The press has eight new book projects currently in use in classes this year, covering a wide variety of subjects from history, to geography, to economics. Some books are available exclusively in PDF format, with prices ranging from $10-$28.

Due to the low cost of Chemeketa Press books, students pay a fraction of the price of the original commercial textbooks that were previously offered. Freedom and Responsibility costs $16, where as the original commercial text cost $48.86. Art for Everyone saved students even more money. The original commercial text cost $214, while Art for Everyone only costs $28: a savings of $186. Regions of the World, a free PDF that replaced a geography textbook, saved each student an astonishing $292.45.

It should be no surprise that with such affordable prices the student body’s response to the program has been positive. “I like the fact that they’re printed in-house,” Eddy Davis, a second year-student enrolled in a Writing 115 class that uses two books written by the press, said. “Because when you go to the bookstore and look at some of the prices of the [commercial] books in there you think ‘OK, if I buy this book I’m not going to be able to eat.’ $185 for one book is ridiculous.”

When asked how The Chemeketa Handbook compared to the previous book used, The Little Seagull Handbook, Davis said “I think it’s better. Everything is so easy to follow. It took everything in The Little Seagull and cut it down and made it understandable”.

While there are still issues to be addressed, Richardson believes that the press is off to a great start and will continue to save students money.

“The college administration and board of education have shown strong commitment to the press, so that’s one important foundation for a healthy future,” Richardson said. “The other major foundation stone is strong faculty involvement. About 100 Chemeketa Faculty worked on one of these projects in some capacity in the past year. That kind of leadership and support also suggests a bright future for the press. Finally, we are learning a lot about how best to support faculty and include students in this work, and I think that those systems will allow the press to keep operating for a long time to come.”