Cerro Coso faculty implemented a strategy to support student success by reducing educational costs for students by adopting Open Education Resources (OERs) to replace costly textbooks.
OERs allow students to have access to their textbooks on the first day of class –no waiting for financial aid or textbooks to arrive; and they don’t just provide free textbooks either, students also have access to video resources, software, labs, and an enhanced textbook experience with hyperlinks to many other resources.
The college conducted a Student Textbook Survey that revealed: 40% of Cerro Coso students had dropped a course because they couldn’t afford the textbook. 35% were not able to afford all the textbooks they needed within the first three weeks of classes. 52% had borrowed a textbook from a classmate, faculty, or used library reserves because they couldn’t afford the textbook. 42% have avoided enrolling as a full-time student (12 units or more) because of the cost of textbooks. 65% said that financial aid never or rarely arrives on time to purchase the required textbooks for the first day of classes.
“There are many reasons why college students do not buy recommended and required textbooks, but fundamentally the biggest reason is they cannot afford them,” said Heather Ostash, Vice President of Student Services. “It is very important that students have access to these OER textbook alternatives.”
Students agree. One student wrote, “I had to drop a class this semester because the cost of a book was $200 and I could not afford that as a single mother. I had already paid over $200 for the two classes I had.” Another student said, “After paying rent, utilities, groceries, car insurance, there isn't enough money to buy all my books at the start of class.”
“When you have a student sitting in class and they don’t have a text, which is often an essential learning tool, then you put students at academic risk.”
Cerro Coso was one of 26 California Community Colleges and 19 CSUs to receive a grant to save students money by empowering professors to adopt high quality, free, and open educational resources for course materials in 2016.
“During the first round of grant funding, we anticipated 22 course sections would reduce textbook costs by at least 30% by replacing a traditional textbook with an OER. We more than doubled this, and ended up with 45 courses that had adopted OERs, saving our students almost $175,000,” said Librarian Sharlene Paxton. With Round 2 funding, the college was awarded $43,000 and had committed to further reduce textbooks costs in at least 44 new course sections that reduced textbook costs by 30% or more with the adoption of at least one OER replacing a traditional copyright-protected textbook. “Once again, we have more than doubled the deliverables, the number of courses we committed to OER adoptions, but this time we more than tripled our new course conversions with 152 new course sections adopting OERs and reducing textbook costs for our students. We saved students $681,970 in textbook costs during this second round of grant funding, and combined with our first round of funding, we have now saved students at least $856,970 in textbook costs as a result of OER adoptions from fall 2016 to spring 2020,” she said.
“This is great news. But we're not done yet! We have a goal to further increase adoptions in additional courses and save students even more money.” The ultimate goal is a Z-degree, “which means the ability for a student to complete a degree with zero textbook costs,” continued Paxton.
The hard work and efforts of the faculty are working. A student said, “It’s getting better. This semester I did not need to buy books for two of my classes. A couple semesters ago I spent more on books than tuition and I don't buy new books.”
“Moving towards open education resources (OER) in most of our courses has reduced the financial burden students face when enrolling in college. By providing access to course materials at zero-cost, students have a better chance of reaching course completion and increased rate of success.”
“Our small college has made some big changes that have had an immensely positive impact on our students’ lives and college success, and we look forward to continuing our work in this important component of student equity and student success,” Paxton concluded.
SB 1359 requires colleges to include a symbol for low-cost courses on their online schedule, so students are able to identify courses that have low-cost or no-cost for textbooks.