WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A plan to use online open-source curricula for more classes at Purdue University starting this fall could collectively save students up to $1 million.
The plan would be an alternative to online programs such as WebAssign that can cost students more than $100 per class to access, the Journal and Courier reported.
Purdue plans to expand use of an open-source online system developed in the early 1990s at Michigan State University. About 4,500 students in geometry and calculus courses wouldn't have to pay for textbooks or access to publisher-backed systems. Roughly 200 biology students currently use the system.
Purdue would be one of a few schools, including Michigan State and the University of Illinois, to use the program on a wide scale.
Other departments at Purdue, including physics, chemistry and political science, use similar open-source curricula software. Licenses to open-source software are free, and programs can be more easily modified.
Purdue Student Government last month passed a resolution asking that the provost's office replace existing online programs that are costly for students. Mike Young, a student senator in the college of engineering, wrote the resolution.
"There's been a big discussion at Purdue about reducing the cost of textbooks," Young said, "but no one's talking about the online homework costs, which in some cases can be more than the textbooks."
It can be more difficult to use open-source programs for higher-level classes, said Benjamin Wiles, assistant head of Purdue's mathematics department. For instance, he said there's a "profound" amount of content available free for algebra or basic calculus.
"The higher you go, the less you get," Wiles said. "We've looked at the open-source materials for higher-level things, and it's just not there."