Investment Into Open-Access Textbooks Could Save Students Millions

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 9:36 am
Charlie Mitchell in front of   the online version of his open-access textbook.

Charlie Mitchell in front of the online version of his open-access textbook.

Next year, Florida students might be able to start saving on college textbooks if the state grants a request to invest in an open-access textbook program.

The textbooks could save students upward of $150 per book, which adds up to a $77.5 million for the 500,000 students enrolled in the state’s Calculus I system alone, according to the results of a pilot program for open-access textbooks.

These savings depend on whether the Florida Legislature accepts a 2015-2016 budget request from the Board of Governors for a $227,000-investment in an open-access textbook initiative called Orange Grove Text Plus.

If accepted, the money will go to University Press of Florida, a system-wide press that prints textbooks for 11 universities in the Florida system.

Meredith Morris-Babb, the director of UPF, said she believes open-access textbooks can replace the standard model with more affordable versions for students in core curriculum.

Unlike e-textbooks, open-access is free for anyone to view online. Teachers can also take what is available and add anything that fits course objectives.

“Open-access is not e-textbooks,” Babb said. “There is a huge difference.”

E-textbooks can cost nearly the same price as their hardback counterparts, but they have more bells and whistles like interactive online content, high-quality graphics and photos.

Charlie Mitchell, a theater appreciation and advanced improvisation teacher at the University of Florida, said he would meet with other professors and complain about the textbooks they had to use.

“Sure, they had nice features and all, but they were never worth the amount of money you were shelling out,” he said.

Mitchell decided to switch to open-access and collaborated with eight other theater professors to write their own textbook. This semester is his first time using the text, and students haven’t noticed any difference in quality.

For first addition, new textbooks on Amazon, Mitchell’s students were paying $140 on average. Now, his students can have the material for free online or buy a paperback copy from the UFP for $25.

“And I don’t see a dime of that,” Mitchell said.

That is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of open-access: funding.

Usually, publishing representatives walk the halls looking to sell textbooks to professors with large classes like Mitchell’s. If he agrees to use one of their books, the publishers will have 600 guaranteed sales that contribute to paying the book’s authors.

If open-access is used in the classroom, a $5-fee will be added onto students’ tuition along with the option to buy a hard copy essentially worth its weight in paper, but this hardly goes to the authors for their work. Therefore, the money needs to come from somewhere other than the students’ pockets.

UF Provost Joe Glover, for example, sponsored Mitchell’s book, which allowed Mitchell to pay his co-authors $500 each. For other books to succeed, more funding will be needed to get professors involved.

Babb said the bulk of the $227,000 will be going to funding projects and starting the core curriculum.

Lynne Vaughan, the director of the University of Florida Bookstore, said open-access isn’t a new concept. It has been available for a long time but is underutilized because the material is never updated.

“But two plus two is always going to be two plus two,” she said. “So, courses like (math) lend themselves well to (open-access).”

Vaughan said books end up open because copyrights exceed their lifespans and are no longer valid. This is either due to failure to have copyrights renewed or publishers moved the content into a newer package.

When Amanda Phalin first became a lecturer in international business at UF, she reviewed all of the major publishers’ textbooks and their online material to find what she considered the best for her students. Price was a factor for her, too.

“It absolutely came into play when I was searching for a book,” Phalin said. “That is the main reason I switched to e-textbooks.”

Her first book was from Pearson.

Phalin’s Pearson representative came to her one day and offered her a full online program with no hardcover. She agreed but only if it saved her students money. And it did.

Publishing companies are beginning to make everything digital for a number of reasons, but with potential programs like Orange Grove Text Plus getting the funding they need, textbooks prices may drop.

“The big losers if this doesn’t get funded,” Babb said, “are the students.”

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Oct. 15th, 2014: Afternoon News in 90 #2

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 6:08 pm

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Oct. 15th, 2014: Afternoon News in 90 #1

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

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Florida Prepaid Plans At Lowest Price Since 2007

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 10:44 am

This year, costs of Florida Prepaid College plans have dropped by nearly 50 percent.

The cost for a 4-Year Florida University Plan has decreased from $53,729 to $27,379, making this year’s prices the lowest since 2007. Florida Prepaid’s annual open enrollment period started Wednesday and will last until Feb. 28.

“We’re very excited about this because we think that it will definitely open up the door for many more families to start saving this year,” said Shannon Colavecchio, Florida College Board spokeswoman.

Families enrolled in the prepaid program between 2008 and 2014 can also get reduced monthly payments or receive refunds if their plans are paid in full, according to a press release. About $200 million will be refunded to 18,000 families. Application fees will also be waived for plans bought by the end of this year.

Florida Prepaid was able to lower plan prices in response to legislation passed this year that limits the future increase of tuition prices.

House Bill 851, which went into effect July 1, limits the increase of tuition prices in the future, which is factored into changes to the plans.

“With this change in law, we are able to reinforce and continue our mission to provide Floridians with affordable college savings options,”Board Chairman Duane Ottenstroer said in a press release.

Florida Prepaid will also offer a new 1-Year Florida University Plan starting at $43 per month, which allows families to pay one year at a time for education at a state university.


Robyn Smith contributed to this article.

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Christian Aguilar Remembered After Bravo Case

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm

September 2012 was a month of endless worry and pain for the Aguilar family.

Christian Aguilar, a 18-year-old Miami native, went missing in Gainesville. He had just moved to start his first year of college at the University of Florida, but what was supposed to be the start of a new and exciting chapter in his life turned into his final day.

Volunteers from both Miami and Gainesville teamed up to comb through Alachua County in search of clues pointing to Christian’s whereabouts. The search lasted 22 days without a trace of the UF student.

But on Oct. 12, a group of hunters discovered his remains in a shallow grave on the grounds of Gulf Hammock Hunting Club in Levy County, more than 60 miles outside of Gainesville.

Alex Aguilar, Christian’s brother, remembers the event clearly. Alex was a 16-year-old junior at Doral Academy High when Christian went missing. He missed 22 days of school to help look for his brother.

After endless hours of searching, praying and hoping, Alex and his family were left heartbroken.

It’s been two years since the Aguilars found their loved one’s remains and two months since the Pedro Bravo trial came to a close. Now, the family is trying to start a new life, but Alex still wants to keep his brother’s memory alive.

Alex, 18, now attends UF as a biochemistry major. He thanks his friends from Miami for helping him through the rough patches.

“It’s an easier transition when you have a lot of people that you know, and they’re making friends and you’re making friends and you start sharing those friends,” he said.

Alex said his brother left his mark at the university by helping him find better research opportunities and get ahead. If Christian were here, though, things might be different.

“I knew him so well,” Alex said. “I knew he’d be making fun of me. He’d be telling me, ‘The only reason you’re here is because I’m here.’”

Even with the memory of his brother’s death, Alex said his family has been able to overlook the past towards a better future.

“I thought it was going to be harder than it really was,” he said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want me to leave, but what parent wouldn’t want their kid to stay home? But, so far, it’s been pretty good for them. They’re excited for me.”

The healing process for the Aguilars began in August. After four delays, the case was finally heard.

Alex said prosecutors prepared them for the emotions they would feel in court, but the family still found it hard to watch.

“We couldn’t understand how they (the defense) wanted to pass the story that Pedro beat up Chris, left his duct tape there, and then Chris somehow stood up, walked 60-something miles, dug a hole with Pedro’s shovel, buried himself, tied himself, and then wait, walked back and buried the shovel. How are you going to explain that?” he said.

The Aguilars sat through the Bravo trial every day for two weeks and waited for a verdict.

The prosecution presented for multiple days with witnesses and evidence to support their statements against Bravo, including the shovel used to bury the body, phone data showing Bravo’s whereabouts on the night Aguilar went missing and video surveillance of Bravo purchasing items related to the case days before Aguilar was never seen again.

Alex said the state attorney told his family the chances of Bravo receiving guilty verdicts on all seven counts were unlikely. Yet after 14 days in court, Pedro Bravo was found guilty on charges of first degree murder, kidnapping-false imprisonment, poisoning, improper transportation of human remains, giving false information to law enforcement in a missing person case, tampering with evidence and providing false reports after Aguilar’s disappearance  in 2012.

Alex said his family feels more at peace.

“We all agree he should get his whole life in there,” he said. “If Pedro was truly suicidal, this would probably be the worst punishment for him – having to live out the rest of his life.”

“It’s only up from here,” he added. “I can’t really let it bring me down in a way.”

Aguilar said he plans to finish his education at UF and has many things he would like to accomplish.

“The way I want to use it is as a form of motivation,” he said. “Thinking back on when my brother was alive. What would he want? How would he do something? How would he live his life?”

Alex remembers their relationship vividly and uses his memories to grow stronger and do better every day. He described some of his favorite moments with Christian as playful jokes.

“We both had the same interests in school, music and the same sense of humor. It was like a friendly competition for everything,” he said. “With me, he would always try to piss me off, so obviously, I would try my best to piss him off, too.”

Alex said his value and love for his family has grown stronger, too. “I look at my parents and I admire how much they’ve gone through and the strength they uphold to this day. It’s just incredible.”

He said his family’s experience sparked a new love for helping others. As a result, Alex and his father, along with a few family members, created an organization that trains dogs, including his own German Shepherds, Jai and Ava, to help find missing people.

“We learned that thousands of kids go missing every day, especially in the U.S,” he said. “We want to do things like that – that help other people, not just yourself.”

Alex said Christian was a blessing in his life.

“He was such a people person, and he was just so great with other people. You just want to continue that for him – find other ways to help people.”

Ryan Roberts and Zach Read contributed to this story. 

Editor’s note: Christian Aguilar’s age was updated to 18 from a previous version that stated he was 19 at the time of his death. 

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In The News: Bondi Wants Gay Marriage Ruling, Amendment 1 To Increase Conservation Funds, Funds Shifted For Ebola Use, Candidates Debate At Flagler College

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm
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Gainesville Gas Prices Remain Above Average

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 3:47 pm
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Gainesville is $3.29, according to GasBuddy.com. Prices can be found higher or lower throughout the city as shown at this Citgo on the corner of South Main Street and Southwest 16th Avenue.

Seantyel Hardy / WUFT News

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Gainesville is $3.29, according to GasBuddy.com. Prices can be found higher or lower throughout the city as shown at this Citgo on the corner of South Main Street and Southwest 16th Avenue.

Gainesville drivers are still paying some of the highest gas prices in Florida at local stations, even though the rest of the nation’s prices are falling.

The supply of gasoline is currently high and demand is low—causing gas prices to fall, according to Mark Jenkins, senior project manager for American Automobile Association (AAA).

“United States is now the lead oil producer in the world, and so, essentially, we’re producing more oil than we have in decades,” Jenkins said. “That’s helping us to have more supply of oil, and that’s helping to keep downward pressure on oil prices and gas prices.”

Prices have dropped to $2.60 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline in some places around the U.S., according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for GasBuddy.com.

Gas prices in Gainesville are generally higher than other Florida cities, such as Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.

“The reason why you’ll see cheaper prices — let’s say in the Tampa area or Orlando — (or) places like that, it tends to be less about the economics,” Kloza said. “It tends to be less about the wholesale costs and revolves more around the notion of a different kind of retailer.”

Gainesville lacks the abundance of competitive gas station chains that are in those cities, such as Murphy USA, Sam’s Club and Costco.

“They tend to price gasoline very, very aggressively,” Kloza said. “It’s something that’s designed to get you inside the Costco or the Sam’s Club to buy the 60-ounce jar of mayonnaise, or whatever.”

The average Florida price per gallon for regular unleaded gas is $3.22 as of Oct. 15, according to the GasBuddy.com tracker. The average for Gainesville is $3.29.

Another possible reason for higher costs here than in other big-name Florida cities is location. Distribution points for gas are in Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Gainesville consumers may be paying a transportation fee for their gas on top of the market price, Kloza said.

The Chevron at 109 S. University Ave. County Route 346, on Archer Road, is currently the cheapest place to buy gas in the Gainesville area, according to GainesvilleGasPrices.com by GasBuddy.com.

As far as setting prices go, Chevron manager Sunny Rebello said that he has no control.

“We got a good price from the board,” Rebello said. “The company controls the gas. We don’t control it.”

Discrepancies in pricing is due to varying Florida fuel taxes, with a statewide tax of $0.171 across the board for each county, then additional taxes that are set by the county itself.

The lowest total fuel tax imposed is in Franklin County with a $0.28-tax. The highest is $0.36, which is the tax amount of Alachua, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Lee, Leon, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, Polk, Putnam, St. Lucie, Sarasota, Suwannee and Volusia counties, according to the Florida Department of Revenue.

Surprisingly, Franklin County currently has a higher average gas price than Alachua County even with having the lowest fuel tax, according to the price tracker.

Gas prices historically fluctuate. The highest recorded Florida average since 2008 was about $4.07 in July of that year. The lowest recorded was just a few months later at about $1.63 in January 2009, according to price tracker statistics.

Gainesville drivers probably will not see gas sell lower than $2 per gallon during the current price drop, like what happened in 2009, but prices will continue to drop.

Kloza predicts that within the next two weeks continuing to Veterans Day, gas prices will go down until they are below $3 per gallon, even here in Gainesville.

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W. Kent Fuchs Of Cornell Named President Of UF

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 11:19 am
W. Kent Fuchs, Ph. D., provost for Cornell University meets Albert and Alberta in Weimer Hall on the campus of the University of Florida on Tuesday. Fuchs was selected as UF's 12th president-designate on Wednesday.

Steven P. Johnson / University of Florida

W. Kent Fuchs, Ph. D., provost for Cornell University meets Albert and Alberta in Weimer Hall on the campus of the University of Florida on Tuesday. Fuchs was selected as UF's 12th president-designate on Wednesday.

Update, 1 p.m.: Cornell University’s Media Relations Office released a statement on Fuchs’ selection as the University of Florida’s next president by David Skorton, president of Cornell.

Skorton wrote, “Kent’s impact on all aspects of Cornell during his tenure as provost cannot be overstated. The legacy he will leave behind will be felt by all Cornellians, and by colleagues at other top research universities, for decades to come.”

Fuchs will bring “a deep understanding of the issues, constituencies and avenues for collaborative action that are central to the life of a university” to the presidency.

Update, 12:50 p.m.: At a press conference following the announcement, Fuchs expressed his enthusiasm and excitement to “serve in this role” at the University of Florida. “It’s going to be a great privilege to be a part of the Gator Nation,” he said.

Fuchs hopes to take the university to new heights by working with students at all levels, as well as faculty and staff to achieve their goals.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us,” he said.

Fuchs is “incredibly optimistic” about the future of UF. His immediate goals include using the spring semester to “listen, learn and build relationships.”

Following his first semester as president, he hopes to use the coming summer and fall semesters to implement UF’s preeminence goals, which he fully endorses.

Fuchs said he has little time to finish his work at Cornell before assuming his new position in Florida, but he believes he has at least 10 years left in his academic career to devote to UF.

Update:  According to a release from Steven M. Scott, chair of the UF Board of Trustees and President Search Committee, Fuchs will assume the presidency on Jan. 1, 2015, following ratification by the Florida Board of Governors. The board is schedule to meet on Nov. 5 and 6.

Original Post: W. Kent Fuchs, Ph.D., Provost for Cornell University, has been selected as the University of Florida’s 12th president-designate.

UF’s Board of Trustees made its decision on Wednesday just before noon.

On Tuesday, UF’s search for its next president was narrowed down to Fuchs and current provost of New York University David W. McLaughlin, Ph.D., but Fuchs prevailed after several rounds of interviews and assemblies.

During the final round of interviews on Wednesday morning, Fuchs said he feels he has been preparing for this opportunity for 20 years.

“I will devote for the next ten years all my energies, all my experience, all my talents and abilities to achieve the aspirations that you all have for this great University,” he said during interviews on Tuesday.

UF Trustee Jason Rosenberg said the board was looking for a president with humility and kindness. Fuchs reiterated the importance of these qualities, but he also said a president cannot be too humble externally – the leader of the Gator Nation must promote the university.

Patty Ard, administrative manager at Cornell’s Office of the Provost, could not formally comment on UF’s selection but did say, “The University of Florida is in wonderful hands.”

Wesley Kent Fuchs, Ph.D.

Wesley Kent Fuchs, Ph.D.

Fuchs, 59, was the youngest of the three final candidates. He received his doctorate in 1985 from the University of Illinois and is a former professor in the areas of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois and Purdue University. He also served as a professor and the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering at Cornell University from July 2002 to December 2008 and has been provost since January 2009.


Editor’s Note: WUFT News is operated by the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

An earlier version of this post cited Fuchs as president-elect. However, because his position is not elected, WUFT News has amended its style to reflect Fuchs’ position as president-designate.

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Oct. 15, 2014: Morning News in 90

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 10:52 am

Kathryn Williams produced this update.

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Florida Theater Renovations A Bright Spot In Limited Music Venue Options

By on October 14th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 8:34 pm
The Florida Theater

Jay Martin / WUFT News

The Florida Theater has been leased and renamed multiple times since opening in 1928.

The historic downtown Gainesville music venue known as The Florida Theater is under renovation and will soon reopen its doors under a much simpler name: The Venue.

Located at 233 W. University Ave., the building has been leased out and renamed multiple times since first opening as The Florida Theatre on Sept. 10, 1928. Previous names include The Great Southern Music Hall, The Palace, Element Night Club and Forum.

Since the building has been closed following its last show, DJ Carnage on Jan. 19, Gainesville has seen a decline in concerts, and many are eager to see its doors open once again.

Casey Dickens, the building’s new manager, said he is currently “playing the waiting game” with the landlord over fire code repairs but should be ready to open the building soon. He hopes a consistently fun atmosphere and high-quality entertainment will keep the doors open this time around.

“I want the people that are here in Gainesville for the next four years, or six years or eight years, or however long you’re here, to remember this place,” Dickens said. “I remember when I was in college and I went to The Florida Theater, and I saw this band or this show and it was awesome, and that’s what I’m after. I’m after the epic event.”

The interior of the building is getting brand-new carpet, paint, lighting, sound equipment and more. A new VIP area in the main room is in the works, and the bathrooms, which Dickens said haven’t been updated in about 12 years, are getting a much-needed improvement.

“I think it’s going to open just at the right time,” Dickens said. “It’s just enough to give people a taste of ‘Hey, The Venue is back, and it’s new’ before spring rolls around and everyone knows it’s the place to party.”

With a spacious main room and a descending, amphitheater-like floor plan, few other venues in Gainesville can match the building’s capacity for large-scale shows, and its absence has been felt.

“Lack of venues is killing Gainesville at the moment,” said Antonio Mercado, owner of The Dynasty Group, a Gainesville promotional company. “Another viable music venue in Gainesville would make a world of difference.”

Last fall, Gainesville hosted more than 10 large concerts from prominent DJs, such as Flux Pavilion, TJR and Markus Schulz, but this fall, only three big-ticket shows have been scheduled.

Two of them, Dada Life and Benny Benassi, were held at Level Nightclub, located across the street from the Florida Theater building. The third, the Electro Chemical Show featuring co-headliners Audien and Cazzette on Oct. 24, was originally booked for University Air Center in Gainesville before relocating to Level due to venue restrictions.

“We absolutely had to either divert or cancel shows altogether due to Florida Theater being closed,” Mercado said. He openly expressed his dislike for Level, calling it “barely adequate for shows.”

Level was the planned venue for Excision, a prominent DJ from Canada, on Feb. 26 until it was canceled after the artist arrived and saw the building.

Excision took to Facebook to explain the cancellation, claiming the building had no power, recent troubles with the fire marshal and sound ordinance complaints.

Excision performed in Gainesville about seven months earlier in The Florida Theater building on July 3, 2013 without any issues.

Jason Rubel, a local DJ, promoter and Grooveshark employee, has seen many venues in Gainesville come and go and knows how much of a difference having a venue like The Florida Theater building would make.

“There’s a lot of good things coming in the future, so hopefully, The Florida Theater can stay a part of that and help keep the culture of music alive here,” Rubel said. “If you have a big venue like that, you can have that as your ultimate venue, and then the other venues can benefit from having smaller shows.”

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