Taking on the cost of books

In lieu of a textbook for the course, McHenry Community College students in Kate Kramer’s Geology of the National Parks course access free classroom material on their cellphones via the government's website, www.NPS.gov. (Photo: MCC)

An Intro to Business book costs $121, but McHenry County College (MCC) students pay zero for it this fall semester thanks to the Illinois college’s textbook reduction program.

In response to the soaring cost of textbooks, MCC faculty, staff and administrators have developed plans to drastically lower or eliminate textbooks and replace them with open educational resources (OER) and other materials for select classes.

The college-wide effort to continue providing high-quality instruction while saving students money from the burdensome cost of textbooks began in 2016 with the creation of the Textbook Ad Hoc Committee, which is co-chaired by MCC President Clint Gabbard and Julie Freelove, business instructor.

The committee conducted three “textbook reduction camps,” where 44 full-time and adjunct faculty collaborated to reduce costs in more than 30 course projects.

“These textbook cost reductions have resulted in over $1 million in annual savings to MCC students in a variety of subject areas, including business, horticulture, fitness, geology and speech,” Gabbard said.

“Our goal is to drastically reduce, if not eliminate, textbooks,” said Sherry Ridge, business instructor, who was instrumental in bringing four business textbooks to a cost of zero, while still providing sources that are accurate and timely.

No student in Intro to Business will pay for a textbook, which means the 300 students enrolled in that class will save a combined annual savings of $30,000, Ridge said. The savings is similar for other business classes, she added.

Books and beyond

Since participating in the three camps since May 2017, Ridge said she found that many of the internet resources include flexible copyright licenses, such as Creative Commons, which allow copying, printing and adapting at no cost.

“Students can load the OER course content on their computers, jump drives, tablets or phones,” Ridge said. “It’s exciting. I love it when students realize that they don’t have to pay for a textbook.”

In addition, Ridge said she created a repository for some of her business classes that she and other instructors can access for discussions, quizzes and PowerPoints to choose from for their classes.

Beginning this fall, students who take Introduction to Speech class — required or recommended for most MCC degrees — will have no textbook cost, as two instructors are piloting a switch from the previous textbook listed at $135 to a free online textbook, “Public Speaking: The Virtual Text.”

Jay Geller, speech instructor and department chair, said he hopes to expand that to all of the SPE 151 sections by spring semester, which will result in an approximate cost-reduction of $162,000 annually for more than 1,200 students.

A ‘bookless’ pioneer

While many MCC faculty have been exploring alternatives to using textbooks, English instructor Anne Humphrey has been a pioneer in the effort. She has been teaching without a textbook in her Composition classes and her learning community (Twofer) classes for more than 10 years.

“I am the first teacher I know of in Illinois to go bookless,” Humphrey said. “I’ve also run one literature class bookless.”

This fall, Humphrey will teach a bookless developmental English section for the first time.

In the 10 years that Humphrey has taught bookless classes, she estimates that for her 2,000 students in the 10 sections of classes who would have spent at least $40 on a textbook have saved at least $80,000.

“What is far more important than the savings is that going with no textbook improves the quality of the materials and the learning,” Humphrey said. “Students learn where to get quality sources from the internet and how to judge quality, and those sources are more current, varied and authentic (original, not secondary).”

MCC students in Anne Humphrey’s Composition I class use online tools to access their class materials on computer screens instead of textbooks. (Photo: MCC)

About the Author

Donna Bieschke
is a marketing communications specialist at McHenry County College in Illinois.
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