Tackling Pricey Textbooks: Yavapai College and six rural community colleges awarded large federal education grant

In June 2021, the Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona project was awarded $801,218 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). Led by Yavapai College, this regional collaborative of seven community colleges will develop Open Educational Resources, or OERs, to reduce the amount of money students must spend on textbooks.

“We are committed to providing accessible and affordable education to the residents of Yavapai County.” Yavapai College President Dr. Lisa Rhine said. “OER is one of the ways in which the College can make an immediate impact for our students. I am ecstatic at the progress we have made so far and I am looking forward to it expanding to more classes and students every semester.”

The three-year Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona initiative will foster the creation and provision of free, open-source materials instead of costly traditional textbooks. “The grant allows us to develop and expand the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in our courses.” Yavapai College Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Diane Ryan explained. “These are materials – learning modules, software, streaming videos, text material, assignments and assessments – that are in the public domain or licensed with a Creative Commons license and can be used as a free alternative to expensive textbooks.” Over the next three years, consortium partners, Arizona Western College, Arizona Eastern College, Central Arizona College, Coconino Community College, Mohave Community College, Northland Pioneer College, and Yavapai College will develop and share OERs.

OERs have been gaining popularity across the nation, and the world, to offset the cost of college textbooks. Once regarded as an incidental expense, college textbook costs have risen by more than 142% since 1998. In an era with many students already burdened by loan debt, high textbook costs have often restricted collegiate ambitions or prevented them altogether. “A Florida study shows us that more than 60% of students do not purchase textbooks at some point due to cost,” Ryan explained. “Another 31% have not taken a course due to textbook costs, and 14% have dropped a course due to textbook costs.”

“The majority of grant funding will be dedicated to two components,” Ryan said. “First, faculty stipends to create more OER materials. Assembling high-quality course materials, assignments, and assessments from an array of internet, Creative Common, and public domain resources require time and work”, she explains. “The grant also provides funding for an OER repository that will be available to all seven community colleges across the consortium.”

“If we have a biology teacher who puts a terrific teaching module together on photosynthesis,” she says. “We will be able to load this module into a repository, and all of the consortium partners will have access to it.”

Yavapai College has been a regional leader in OER development. For example, English professors Karen Palmer and Sandy Van Lieu developed OER curricula for their ENG 101 and 102 courses in 2019-20.

Both faculty members have been leaders in sharing their OER material with the world utilizing the Creative Commons license. They co-authored the book, The Roughrider’s Guide for Writing and made it available for other educators to use.

The Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona project commenced in September, with the goal of converting 31 courses to OER materials by August 31, 2024. Yavapai College’s own OER initiative, now entering its third semester, has met with an enthusiastic student response. “We label the OER courses in our registration system to help students identify them” Ryan says. In limited application, Yavapai College’s OER adoption has already saved students more than $300,000 in textbook costs.

For further information on the FIPSE, please visit their website at www.ed.gov/FIPSE/. To learn more about the “Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona” project, and the availability of OER materials, please contact Megan Crossfield, Manager of Academic Initiatives & Special Projects at 928-717-7627 or Megan.Crossfield@yc.edu.

“The contents of this press release were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.”

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