After tuition and housing, books and supplemental instructional materials can be a substantial percentage of a student’s budget. Since 1978, the cost of college textbooks has increased by 812 percent. This is a faster increase than even health care or home prices. On average, a student will pay $655 for textbooks per year. This is just an average, meaning 50 percent of students are paying more than this; not surprising when just one book can cost as much as $300. The cost goes even higher when supplemental materials are added in. Students in some classes spend up to an additional $150 per semester for art or other supplies.
There is a growing movement among community colleges to decrease the cost of learning materials used in the courses they offer. They are doing this through the switch to Open Educational Resources. These are any resources that are available at little, $40 or less, or no cost that can be used for teaching, learning or research. OER are generally digital resources and tend to focus on online or hybrid courses; however, they can also be used in traditional classroom settings. Beyond electronic textbooks, the materials include learning applications, syllabi, online quizzes and exams, and instructional videos and any other type of material that can be delivered to the students electronically. These materials are usually released under a Creative Commons license.
Maricopa County Community Colleges, which Glendale Community College is a part of, started the Maricopa Millions OER Project in Fall 2013. The project’s goal is to substantially lower student costs associated with course materials with low or no cost options. No cost courses have no additional fees beyond the tuition. Through Spring 2016, the project has generated nearly $6 million in savings for MCCCD students. To assist students in locating classes with no or low cost textbooks, a search option has been added to the student information system’s Find A Class section.
However, the benefits to students can be hard for them to appreciate as there is a savings involved instead of an easily noticeable out of pocket expense. The experience of former GCC student Dawn Creighton brings some perspective. She says that when she was attending GCC, “There was no book advance and that caused the hair raising situation of having to pay for my books, including expensive math books, on my own before getting any of my grant money.”
The OER Project not only benefits the students; it is also benefiting the instructors. Jeff Del Nero, faculty member in the GCC Art department, told his Art Marketing class, “Being able to use online materials takes pressure off of the teachers.” By having these materials available, teachers don’t have to require their students to purchase often expensive textbooks.
In its current form the project appears to be a success all around. However, MCCCD is continuing to evaluate more OER materials and expand their use in more classes. The project timeline calls for the use of OER materials during live classroom session starting in the 2016-2017 school year.