Open educational resources help students save money


Canva Image by Rianne Herrera

The Open Education Resources Award program aims to compensate professors for utilizing OER in their classes. The goal of the program is to save students money on resources such as textbooks.

In response to a push by Cosumnes River College’s Open Educational Resources Award Program, professors have begun adopting open educational resources in their courses.

The OER Award Program aims to include more zero textbook cost classes for students using OER like public online textbooks.

Librarian Andi Adkins-Pogue, who is the project lead of the OER Award Program, said the program hopes to help students save money by offering compensation for professors who pledge to modify their courses to fully utilize OER.

“Part of it is just helping faculty understand that the cost of textbooks truly does impact our students,” Adkins-Pogue said. “50% of CRC students live below poverty or in low income and so that $50 or $100 could be used for groceries, or to help pay their rent, or to help pay for childcare or a car payment.”

Switching to OER is not without its hurdles, and the question remains whether the effort professors must put into modifying their courses can be justified.

“That is much easier in some disciplines than it is in others, because in some disciplines like chemistry, there are textbooks that are already out there that are open and available for faculty to use. In other disciplines, it’s much more difficult,” Adkins-Pogue said. “An example would be some of our career and technical education programs which are very specialized and often have an outside accrediting body that requires specific materials that are just not available as an open educational resource.”

History Professor Gregory Beyrer said he started using OER seven years ago, and made the change after he realized textbooks were not as accessible to students as they were to professors.

“I recognized how disconnected I am from how much my students pay for texts. I know that I’m not a student, so I’m not paying tuition or I don’t have to worry about financial aid,” Beyrer said. “I recognized that I don’t have to worry about that at all because as professors, we get free copies of any text we want, and that publishers want us to assign their texts for our classes.”

Although the level of difficulty can vary across disciplines, OER offers financial savings that many college students need.

The College Board Trends in College Pricing & Student Aid 2021 Full Report showed that students attending public two-year institutions spend an average of $460 on books per year.

Twenty-three-year-old marine biology major Alora Kingsbury cited a similar budget for her own textbooks, and shared some of the ways she could use that money instead.

“I wouldn’t have to worry about car maintenance, rent or anything like that because my textbooks can be $300 to $400 a piece if I needed to buy them new, or they’re $60 or $70, and that’s a full tank of gas,” Kingsbury said.

Some students at CRC forgo purchasing or renting textbooks from the bookstore entirely, such as 33-year-old general education major Justin Burns, who said he opted to rent his textbooks from Amazon. Even when buying books from a third-party website, Burns said he spent a total of $70 on textbooks this semester.

“I think it would be a lot tougher of a decision for a student who’s really working toward a degree they’re trying to use and also trying to survive as a younger person,” Burns said. “I think my perspective is unique there, but even for me as an older person, it’s still like that money is valuable.”

While most CRC students could appreciate saving money on textbooks, it’s not the only advantage of the OER program.

A 2020 study by the American Society for Engineering Education found that college students taking classes with OER dropped out and failed at lower rates than students taking classes that required purchasing a textbook.

Beyrer cited instances before he switched to OER in which the grades of multiple students suffered after they tried to save money on a required textbook.

“There was one semester when the publisher reorganized the chapters and that was the only change that the new edition made. And because of that, I had students get burned because they were tested on something that they hadn’t yet read,” Beyrer said. “And it’s my fault for not doing the research on the old edition, but it’s also the publisher’s fault for making what I thought was a really superficial change. And the worst part about it was I had students get hurt. I have students whose grades suffered and I really felt bad about that.”

Jaden Thomas, an 18-year-old fire technology major, said the OER class he took was “cool,” and that he appreciated the fact he was able to easily access his textbook online.

“I took my first OER class last semester and I did pretty well in that class with the free textbook,” Thomas said. “But also, I’m not gonna complain, cause it was free.”

OER may not be implemented as quickly as they were in chemistry courses, but Adkins-Pogue said she sees a future for OER at CRC.

“In some departments in some areas, I do think that it’s realistic and possible and doable right now,” Adkins-Pogue said. “And in others, it’s gonna take some time, and there might be some classes that we can convert but others that are going to take longer.”

Students can find current ZTC courses when enrolling for classes through eServices, and can learn more about ZTC and OER here.