Dr. Cable Green had every faculty member in the audience at Chemeketa Community College’s Salem campus auditorium raise their hands.
Then, he told them to lower their hands if they had never had a student who skipped on buying an assigned textbook for their class.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much movement.
There’s a lot more to the cost of higher education than tuition. The average college student spends more than $1,300 per year on textbooks. And that’s what brought Green, director of global learning for Creative Commons, to Chemeketa on March 4.
Green asked the audience to consider the possibility of open educational resources, or OERs. OERs are classroom materials such as textbooks, supplemental instructor materials and multimedia than are released under open licenses that allow creators to maintain their copyrights while giving those creators the ability to allow others to use their works if they wish.
In his keynote, Green pointed to surveys showing that two-thirds of college students have not purchased a required textbook at some point. Half of students say they take fewer classes during a term or semester in order to afford books. A third of students said they have purposely avoided classes or majors in order to reduce book costs.
“How are your students supposed to learn with materials they can’t afford and are not buying?” Green asked the audience.
In addition to the cost savings to students, Green also proposed OERs as a way for faculty to have additional control over the materials in their courses. A course instructor would be able to edit and modify OERs, share those materials for others to also use or review and even involve students in the continual updating of material.
“Nobody knows better what your students need than you,” Green said.
Green encouraged instructors who are not already using OERs in their classes to look at some before placing their next textbook order and told college administrators to figure out how to best support faculty who want to build OERs for their courses.
In addition to his presentation at Chemeketa, Green joined President Julie Huckestein and Associate Vice President/Chief Information Officer Tim Rogers at the State Capitol to testify before the House Committee on Higher Education, Innovation and Workforce Development.
The presentation sparked plenty of questions from the legislators on the committee.
Rep. Joe Gallegos, a University of Portland professor emeritus, noted a textbook used for a seminar on psychology he conducted cost more than $200 and he “felt terrible” about students having to pay that amount.
Huckestein told the committee the college has formed a Textbook Sticker Shock Committee to both bring greater awareness of textbook costs to college staff and also provide opportunities for faculty and staff to collaborate on reducing the costs of textbooks.
She also pointed out that textbook costs add even more financial burden to a student having to take pre-college courses.
“For some students, that can add eight more courses,” Huckestein told the House members.
Rogers noted work already done at Chemeketa includes offering price comparisons at the bookstore, making more titles available to rent or buy as an e-book, more aggressively negotiating directly with publishers for lower prices, increasing internal audits of course material in some departments whether the material is an OER or not, and also making preparations at the library to house increased OERs.
“This is not an area where anybody seems to be digging their heels in,” Rogers told the committee.