Tackling the price of textbooks

Community colleges continue to explore ways to reduce the price of textbooks for students, from relying more on technology to setting flat rates on required course material.

Last year, less than half of Onondaga Community College’s students were able to buy their textbooks. For a full-time student, the cost of textbooks was, on average, $615 a semester.

Now, the New York college and Barnes & Noble College (BNC), the operator of OCC’s campus bookstore, are cutting costs with the Box of Books program. It will provide students with flat-rate, predictable pricing for textbooks. Students also have access to an affordable Chromebook to “level the playing field,” according to an OCC press release.

Beginning with the fall 2019 semester, students will have access to all their required course material for a flat rate based on their registered credit hours. Students taking five courses, or 15 credit hours, will save an average of nearly $300 per semester. Printed textbooks, eBooks and access codes to interactive materials are all included in the package.

“Students regularly tell us their OCC education is a tremendous value, but the added cost of textbooks, the online access codes and a computer is standing in their way,” said OCC President Casey Crabill. “This partnership is the first-of-its-kind program with a public institution and a first step towards addressing a nationwide barrier to college completion and student success.”

Onondaga Community College is the first public college in the nation to join the Barnes and Noble program.

Expanding OER

In Texas, Panola College students working toward an academic associate degree could save more than $1,000 beginning this fall as a result of an effort to use open education resources (OER) instead of traditional textbooks.

“Since I’ve been working in higher education, students have complained about the cost of textbooks. We made the decision to do something to help our students,” said Billy “Bubba” Adams, vice president of instruction.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 65 percent of students surveyed in a federal study said they did not purchase a textbook because it was too expensive, but 94 percent of those students were worried that their grades would suffer as a result.

From left: Panola College’s Sherlynn Hall, Natalie Oswalt and Billy “Bubba” Adams review courses at the college offered with open education resources. (Photo: Panola)

The Panola Faculty Association generated a timeline to transfer to OER most of the basic courses that form the foundation for a university bachelor’s degree. With this new program in place for the fall, the only basic courses that will not be initially available using OER content are Texas government and some science courses.

“Of the 42 semester hours in the academic core curriculum, our students will be able to earn 31 hours with OER beginning this fall,” said Natalie Oswalt, dean of arts, sciences and technology. “They will be able to earn 74 percent of their core coursework with OER. Math courses may continue to require online lab access, but within the new system, this cost cannot exceed $25.”

Students coming to Panola to complete the basic courses in the core curriculum will be able to complete 10 of those classes with OER, saving them at least $1,000 in textbook costs, Oswalt said.

Other OER efforts

Meanwhile, the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) in March announced it received $163,000 in grant funding from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education for OER projects. The funding is made up of six institutional grants, one small group grant, and two travel fund grants.

Grantees will expand OER usage at their institutions. Community College of Denver, for example, will develop open educational resources for four new classes, and Front Range Community College will adopt OER use in English composition courses.

“The growing use of OER for both online and face-to-face learning improves our ability to reduce one of the greatest financial barriers to higher education,” CCCS Chancellor Joe Garcia said.

Editor’s note: Parts of this article come from the AACC 21st-Century Center.

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