The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has long taken a firm stand on the cost of textbooks, urging faculty to seek alternatives and to try to develop methods by which costs can be kept down for students. One promising solution to the problem of rising textbook costs is the development and adoption of Open Educational Resources, or OER. In recent years, legislators have also become interested in ways to save students money, with bills focused on OER passed by Senator Steinberg in 2012 (SB 1052 and SB 1053). In 2015 Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla has joined in, with the passage of AB 798, also known as the College Textbook Affordability Act.
The goal of the College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 is to reduce the costs of course materials for California college students by encouraging faculty to accelerate the adoption of high-quality no-cost and low-cost course materials, especially Open Educational Resources. The legislative strategy will be implemented through the OER Adoption Incentive Program, which provides funding for faculty professional development focused on significantly lowering the cost of course materials for students while maintaining the quality of materials. As part of the legislation, the State of California has allocated $3 million for the program, and each California State University and California community college can request up to $50,000 for its campus OER program.
OER are high-quality teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. A wealth of OER options are available at the California Open Online Library for Education (www.cool4ed.org), though colleges are not restricted to this collection of materials for purposes of the AB 798 grants. Local programs funded by the grants may also include other resources such as ebooks and ejournals that are freely and legally available to all students. OER include, but are not limited to, full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, faculty-created content, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.
AB 798 provides funding to campuses that wish to pursue using OER as an option to reduce student textbook costs. In order to apply for the incentives, local academic senates must complete two requirements:
1. Adopt a resolution that states its support to increase student access to high-quality OER and reduce the cost of textbooks and supplies for students. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has crafted a resolution template for local senates to use if they desire:
Whereas, The significant rise in costs of textbooks is a barrier to college attendance, student access, and student success;
Whereas, Many colleges are interested in reducing the cost of textbooks to increase student access to necessary course materials; and
Whereas, The intent of the College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 (AB 798, Bonilla, 2015) is to reduce costs for college students by encouraging faculty to accelerate the adoption of lower cost, high-quality, open educational resources (OER);
Resolved, That the Academic Senate of _______ support efforts to increase student access to high-quality open educational resources and reduce the cost of textbooks and supplies for students in course sections for which open educational resources are to be adopted to accomplish cost savings for students.
2. In collaboration with students and campus administration, create and approve a plan that describes evidence of the faculty’s commitment and readiness to effectively use grant funds to support faculty adoption of OER. This approval can be signaled in the format of a resolution, a senate directive, or other locally established process, but the plan should be approved only after it has been vetted by faculty, students, and administrators.
These two requirements must be completed and submitted for review by June 30, 2016. For full details, colleges should review the legislation. The resources and support services on the California Open Online Library for Education website include sample academic senate resolutions, sample templates for grant proposals, easy access and discovery of OER, and more.
The faculty-led California Open Educational Resources Council (COERC) will be conducting webinars in Spring 2016 to review the resources and services available as well as distributing print and digital communications describing the opportunities and resources available. In addition, members of COERC will be available to provide advice and guidance about OER.
The COERC CCC representatives, in cooperation with COERC, will be sending out additional memos and communications via social media and an online community connected to the COOL4Ed website.
In addition to OER materials, interest is increasing around the state in creating “Z Degrees” or zero textbook degrees, which are degree pathways that can be achieved without the student having to purchase a single text throughout his or her academic career. In his January 2016 budget proposal, Governor Brown included funding of up to $5 million to explore these degrees. A number of colleges around the country are pursuing the idea of a zero cost degree, and in light of the governor’s budget proposal California community colleges should consider all programs that might benefit from a Z pathway. Students who are seeking a certificate should not be excluded from the opportunity to benefit from low or no cost textbooks and materials where those materials are appropriate. Community colleges in California should refer to zero or low cost pathways rather than just degrees, as many of our students are not seeking a degree but instead are interested in a certificate to demonstrate that the student has mastered a specific skill or profession. Those certificates are of equal, if not greater, value to students who are seeking to skill build or to earn certification for employment.
The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges will continue to advocate for lower costs for students, whether through increased financial aid opportunities, lower fees, or the adoption and use of OER materials and Z pathways and degrees.