San Jacinto College is preparing to launch a general studies associate degree program that will provide significant cost savings to students due to not purchasing traditional course materials such as high-cost textbooks.
In lieu of traditional print textbooks that can cost as much as $300 per copy, students who participate in the new program will use digital Open Educational Resources course materials which are free and accessible online. San Jacinto College full-time students currently pay approximately $700 per semester for printed textbooks, which amounts to nearly one-third of the total spent on tuition, fees and textbooks per term.
San Jacinto College will pilot OER courses during the spring 2017 semester and the full OER general studies associate degree program is tentatively scheduled to be available for students with the start of the fall 2017 term.
Some San Jacinto College faculty have already been using free OER materials on a limited basis but the new general studies associate degree program will make exclusive use of OER material as curriculum, which will be a first for the College.
The OER concept, informally called “open source,” is becoming more widespread among colleges and universities around the nation. “Free, open source materials have been used by many faculty around the country for some time now,” said Mark Johnson, SJC North Campus English and modern languages department chair. “OER degrees have been started at colleges in Virginia and New York and provided dramatic savings for students. For example, students at Virginia’s Tidewater College saved over $60,000 in textbook costs during the first semester of its OER degree launch. Tidewater also had a significant increase in student completion rates in its OER courses” said Johnson.
Johnson is coordinating the launch of San Jacinto College’s OER general studies associate degree program and recently attended a national OER conference in San Francisco. At the conference, he learned that OER classes have other benefits in addition to reducing costs. “With OER materials, instructors actually have more higher quality materials than ever before, with OER, rather than textbook publishers determining course content, faculty share their expertise and take the lead role as subject matter experts who choose, review and create free and sharable course texts. More importantly, when our faculty use OER material they become heroes to students by removing financial barriers and creating equity in education in a way that’s never been done on such a large scale” said Johnson.
The launch of San Jacinto College’s OER general studies associate degree is supported in part by a $74,676 grant from Achieving the Dream through Austin Community College, the main recipient in Texas and one of four partners in the project. Other partners are El Paso Community College and Alamo Community College. Money from the grant will pay faculty to develop courses and help pay for faculty training. The result will be courses where students do not pay for course materials.
Courses based on open source curricula can even be more effective, than courses that employ printed textbooks, said Dr. Laurel Williamson, San Jacinto College deputy chancellor and president. “Using open source materials provides a great deal of flexibility because faculty and students are not locked into the use of a specific text for a two- to three-year period, there is no issue with publishers going to new editions or making changes to an expensive text after it has been in print for a single year” said Williamson.
Williamson said there will be a rigorous review of all OER course materials by faculty members. “The quality of the curriculum will be comparable to what is available in traditional textbooks, we will continue to maintain the high standards we expect in the classroom, but no longer will a student have to choose between buying the textbook or paying the rent. Research shows that student performance may improve because students no longer try and complete course work without the expensive textbooks. The course-supporting materials are available at no cost. This extends the open access for students that is a critical part of the community college mission and supports the central mission of San Jacinto College: student success” said Williamson.