GCC Promotes Free Textbooks for Students and Faculty Fellowships

April 8, 2016

If you haven’t shopped for textbooks in a college bookstore recently, you’re likely to experience sticker shock. The average new textbook at Greenfield Community College’s college bookstore now costs $121.03. Across the U.S., textbook prices have risen 812% since 1978, outpacing increases in costs of housing and healthcare. This spring, a new softcover textbook for GCC’s Psychology 101 courses cost $175 before taxes. In the fall 2016 semester, online or PDF versions textbooks for Psych 101 courses taught by GCC’s three full-time faculty will be FREE to students. By choosing to use free, open-access, peer-reviewed course materials, the three professors estimate they will save GCC students approximately $200,000 over the next three years (assuming their students would have bought new textbooks).

How is this possible?

GCC has committed to helping reduce the cost of a GCC education by developing the Open Education Faculty Fellowship program. This competitive grant program is an initiative of the Nahman Watson Library and provides $500 stipends to faculty members who choose to replace high-cost commercial textbooks with materials that are free to students. The program recognizes that faculty who adopt new course materials need to spend time adapting their courses to the materials. GCC’s stipend program is based on the Open Education Initiative, a similar, highly successful program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. UMASS is a pioneer in the country in adopting open educational resources (OER) course materials and their program has saved UMASS students $1.3 million over the past five years.

What is the source of the free materials? Are they as good as commercial textbooks?

GCC reference librarian Tim Dolan explained that there is a national movement to make OER materials available to college faculty and students as a response to the growth in textbook prices. While individual GCC faculty have used OER materials in their courses in the past, now the college is encouraging all faculty to consider it. There are a number of non-profit and private sector organizations that provide OER materials and GCC faculty are free to choose whichever materials work best for them. The source chosen by the three psychology faculty is OpenStax, a foundation-funded non-profit program of Rice University. OpenStax currently offers free, peer-reviewed textbooks for 22 college course topics including calculus, U.S. history, chemistry, biology, psychology, statistics, and others. Peer-reviewed means the textbooks have been written and reviewed by higher education experts to assure they meet the academic standards of a particular discipline.

Dolan was recently appointed to a statewide committee of community colleges focused on the use of OER resources. He said, “At GCC, we’re always looking for concrete ways to help more people get a GCC education. Using OER materials saves students money and makes sure they have access to course material on the first day of classes – no more waiting for financial aid checks, or not buying required textbooks because they’re too expensive. Today, buying textbooks can make up 15-25% of the cost of a community college education. By reducing these costs, the college can help students take more classes, graduate sooner, and enjoy a higher standard of living while in school. By using OERs, we have the ability to multiply a small investment manyfold in savings for students.”

What do faculty members think about OER materials?

Terry Boyce, Anne Garvey, and Joshua Becker are all full-time faculty in Psychology at GCC. Recognizing increasing textbook costs, they have watched the development of OER materials and have waited to make sure there were established, peer reviewed textbooks available. Since spring 2014, they have used a common textbook for their Psych 101 courses so there would be consistency across the courses and to save students money by making more used copies available. This year, the three have chosen to use the OpenStax Psychology texts for their Psych 101 courses in Fall 2016. The textbooks will be free in electronic form, and $29 in printed form.

Boyce said, “This is all about continuing to provide high quality education to students with an emphasis on making it cost effective for students. We’ve watched the price of commercial textbooks go up and seen how textbook publishers put out new editions every few years, making old editions obsolete. With OpenStax, course instructors can download materials and customize them for their classes. Our students work hard, we want to make a GCC education accessible to them.”

To learn more about GCC’s Open Education Faculty Fellowships, visit http://www.gcc.mass.edu/library/open-education-faculty-fellowships-2016/.

To learn about the statewide and national movement toward OER, contact Tim Dolan at dolant@gcc.mass.edu or 413-775-1872.

By Mary McClintock, ’82