Education

Boundless continues battles against sky-high textbook prices

Above: Boundless founder Ariel Diaz with his dog.

Image Credit: Facebook

College textbook prices are soaring at an alarming rate, increasing faster than tuition, medical services, and even new homes. Boundless launched iOS application and a premium offering today, continuing its efforts to making educational content more accessible for college students.

Boundless is a service that curates free digital textbooks and study resources for college students. The company’s tagline is “It’s not your assigned textbook, it’s better.” It draws from Open Education Resources and experts to offer alternatives to traditional textbooks, which cost the average college student $655 each year. Founder Ariel Diaz said that his mission is to give students the power to choose how they learn and enable them to learn in a more affordable way.

“Students deserve better than the status quo of ineffective, overpriced textbooks,” Diaz said. “They’ve grown up with amazing technology but are burdened with poorly-designed products or ancient technology when they get their education.”

More than one million students use Boundless resources each month. It offers free content for 21 college level subjects. The premium service costs $19.99 and will feature built-in interactive study materials for each subject, including flashcards, quizzes, and summarization to help students retain information. It will also give students access to enhanced content and the native mobile apps.

When developing these updates, Boundless incorporated feedback from users as well as educational research which found that people learn more effectively when they are actively engaged in the material, as opposed to passively consuming it. Diaz aims to provide a more interactive, open, lightweight alternative, not just a cheaper one, and the textbook publishers have not responded kindly to his efforts.

Three major textbook publishers (Pearson Education Cengage Learning and Bedford Freeman & Worth Publishing Group) sued Boundless for copyright violations earlier this year. Boundless then filed answers and counterclaims with the court denying all allegations of wrongdoing. Diaz said that they “ganged up” on Boundless to stifle innovation and “protect their stagnant product” that keeps textbook prices artificially high.

Diaz, however, won’t be stifled and has continued working away at growing Boundless. Hundreds of thousands of students access Boundless content from their mobile devices and Diaz said the native apps will provide a more enjoyable personalized experience “without an insane price tag.”

Boundless is one of many ed-tech startups that seek to make education more affordable. Student debt in America has surpassed $1 trillion. Millions of students are saddled with loans that burden them for years after graduation and limit their opportunities. The high price of higher education also means that college is out of financial reach for those who aren’t near the top of the socio-economic spectrum, which makes it significantly harder to land a lucrative job.

Boundless is taking on the textbook market, while massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Khan Academy and Coursera offer free courses online. There are also a slew of companies that make college tuition more affordable through creative methods of financing. 

Making education accessible and affordable is crucial for economic growth and innovation. Boundless won’t always be a sufficient replacement. The content is not identical to what students find in traditional textbooks, which could present a problem if assignments specifically draw from that text. Boundless is helping to drive change by demonstrating that educational resources don’t have to be outrageously expensive, but it is up to the universities, publishers, and students to promote change as well.

Boundless is based in Boston and has raised $10 million to date from Kepha Partners, Founder Collective, and Nextview Ventures.