An ambitious, Legislature-funded effort by nearly two dozen California community colleges to create degree and certificate pathways with no textbook costs is scaling up this year, and early — if imperfect — data suggest that the program is saving students money and improving their educational outcomes.
“We want, in the most transparent and affordable way possible, to provide our students with [a] coherent and cohesive educational experience,” said James Glapa-Grossklag, a dean at College of the Canyons and a co-coordinator for the program. “That includes removing the barrier to costly instructional materials, which have the effect of telling students without financial wherewithal that they don’t belong in the classroom.”
A $5 million grant the state Legislature authorized in 2016 aimed to do just that, by moving all course materials for these pathways to open educational resources, also called OER. These resources, which are often but not always online, are free to students and openly licensed. The initiative, referred to as the zero-textbook-costs (or ZTC) program, awarded grants to 23 community colleges to create 23 associate-degree pathways and 14 certificate pathways. While some were rolled out in the fall of 2018, most are being implemented this academic year.
Textbook prices are a barrier for many students, but they can be particularly nettlesome for those students — highlighted in a study released last March — who are homeless or food insecure. A well-implemented zero-textbook-cost pathway is a “green light” for such students, Glapa-Grossklag said. “If we fail to provide those students with a predictable way to select classes and keep going in a predictable manner to the same physical location or the same online location, we run the risk of them encountering that surprise $200 textbook, which would be life changing to a student who is living in his or her car,” he said.
Community college grantees say they expect to save students a total of almost $43 million over the course of three years. That number is an aggregate of the estimates each college provided in its grant application, so it is hard to judge its reliability.
In general, there are several different approaches to arriving at a cost-saving estimate from OER adoption. Some analysts will simply multiply the price of a new original textbook by the number of students in the course. Others will try to incorporate some understanding that many students buy used books, rent books or don’t buy them at all. In this case, each college potentially took its own approach to the estimate. Methodology for the calculations was not included in the grant applications, Glapa-Grossklag said…. (continue reading)