LMC offers cost-effective solution

Robert Pierce, twitter.com/RobertP_EXP

Los Medanos College is currently offering 100 zero textbook cost (ZTC) sections of classes in astronomy, biology, political science, communications, English and art with the number of sections expected to rise by the start of the fall semester. ZTC sections are currently available for general registration and are denoted in the Los Medanos online class database by a unique icon slashed-through ‘$’ icon.

   LMC Professors Scott Hubbard and Edward Haven as well as Dean of Student Success David Belman are the ones who worked to bring ZTC classes to the campus, collaborating with faculty and each other to form the Open Education Resources Board as part of the statewide ZTC Program.

   “The process started at a state level… four to five years ago, when there was this desire to realize that the mission of community colleges is to provide open education to people,” Haven said. “Knowledge is not something that should be held in an ivory tower that we keep to ourselves, but rather is something that we want to share and disseminate to our students, and they realized that textbook costs was becoming a barrier to that.”

   In fact, according to a student survey conducted by the OER Board, 52.5 percent of students avoided enrolling in a full load of classes due to textbook costs, and 42.7 percent dropped a class they had enrolled in due to not being able to afford the textbook.

   “[The state] wanted to do something, but what they realized was just that there wasn’t a lot of good material out there that could substitute for textbooks, so they started these initiatives to start getting people to create material,” Haven said.

   LMC is part of the ZTC Program’s Phase II Grant and the ZTC sections on campus use textbooks created under a Creative Commons license, which allows readers to distribute digital copies for free. By joining somewhat late in the game, LMC also has access to properly vetted, quality ZTC books.

   “So far, the faculty whom I’ve helped choose books are blown away by the quality of the textbooks and resources that are out there now,” said Hubbard on the situation. “To give you some background, I was part of a team that looked at using OERs for math about 4 years ago, and the quality was sub-par, to be honest. In the last 4 years, however, there has been unbelievable improvement… It’s a great time right now, and it can only get better.”

   While ZTC sections do not charge anything for the textbooks, Haven noted that certain sections might still have a material cost for things like calculators, goggles or paint and students will still have to pay the price of printing if they want a physical copy of a digital book.

   Despite this, the OER Board is confident in the ZTC’s ability to save money for students.

   “We estimate that the average student saves $100 per class that doesn’t have a textbook… That comes from the state chancellor’s office,” Haven said. “When you think about a class being 40 people, and we have 30 or 40 sections or so, we’re talking about easily 1600 students being affected, each saving $100… That comes up to about $16,000 a year being saved by students.”

   Several OER Board members also noted another benefit of ZTC sections is that all students will have access to all of their materials on the first day of class, as opposed to having to wait until enough money is saved to purchase them or until the textbooks have shipped if they buy them through third parties – the OER Board student survey also mentioned that 40.4% of students are unable to afford all of their textbooks within the first three weeks of class.

   “In a ZTC course, students will have access, for free, to the textbooks and resources in their classes from day one,” Hubbard stated. “That means that they won’t have to save up money to buy the books, or wait two to three weeks for financial aid to come in. Also, they can use the money that they would have spent on books, to instead use on other things, whether that’s school-related, or just necessities in life. As you know, many of our students are parents, or support family members, or have to work many hours a week to stay financially afloat, so any help we can give to students to lower their cost of education is critical.”

   Ultimately, the OER Board’s goal is continue offering ZTC sections at LMC and expand the range of sections available in the future.

   “The grant runs out after December 2018,” Hubbard said of the Phase II Grant allowing the OER Board to exist. “So if the college picked it up, then we could still do our work and help faculty move over to Zero Textbook Cost and OER options… Hopefully the college will support us in institutionalizing this effort.”

   How many students sign up for ZTC sections this summer and fall will most likely determine the fate of the initiative in future semesters.

   “I’m really hoping for students to kind of vote with their feet,” Haven stated. “If all else is equal, and you have the option to take it without a textbook cost, why not save yourself the money?”