English Faculty Contribute to Open Educational Resources
Faculty Lightens Student Textbook Debt by a Half-Million Dollars
El Dorado, Kan. – With already high and rising costs, college textbooks have become a financial burden for most students, with many students reporting that sometimes they forego buying them all together to save money or even skip meals to afford books.
The average full-time student at a two-year community college in the U.S. can expect to spend $1,440 on books, according to the College Board, a nonprofit that expands student access to education. At Butler Community College, based in El Dorado, Kansas, officials recommend that each of its students’ budget about $1,200 per academic year for textbook expenses.
But through the community college's use of open educational resources or OER as they are known in academic parlance, the financial burden on students is made easier.
OER, available through various online repositories, provide access to a variety of high-quality instructional materials, from peer-reviewed textbooks, lesson plans, activities, curriculum, images, music and more. At Butler, OER charges vary by course, but are substantially less than textbooks.
For Butler students enrolled in English Composition I and II classes, the OER textbooks are homegrown.
“The English department decided that instead of asking our students to spend a ton on textbooks, we'd just write the books ourselves, so we divided the work and got it done,” said department chair Jim Buchhorn, who wrote three chapters of the resulting Comp II textbook. “There’s no need for a new textbook every year — the rules of English grammar are basically what they have been since about 1066 AD.”
With the new Butler-authored English OER textbooks, offered for the first time during the 2018-19 academic year, each student in the Comp I and II classes saw their textbook tab for each class drop from $240 to just $40, Buchhorn said.
“If you add up the number of students who took Comp I and Comp II since we wrote the books, you get half a million dollars in savings. That’s significant,” he added. “By definition, college students anywhere are broke. That’s not unique to Butler. So the department decided to do what we can to put more money back into their pockets.”
To help navigate their way into writing OER content, the English faculty along with Susan Bradley, dean of humanities, social and behavioral sciences, called upon Butler's research and instruction librarian Judy Bastin, who provides guidance on copyright, common use, licensing and other information to Butler faculty who want to use or create OER.
The possibilities of OER use are numerous, noted Bastin. OER can enhance a course's curriculum with the use of these resources without faculty being concerned about burdening students with more financial costs.
“This opens up opportunities for faculty to be creative,” she said. “You don't have to make your own” as the English faculty did.
Bradley has encouraged faculty in her division to consider using OER.
“Textbook costs have spiraled out of control and students find those prices less and less acceptable,” said Bradley. “Some students have done without textbooks, or delayed purchases.” She later commented, “OER solve these problems by being available at the outset of the term at low cost.”
According to Follett, an education technology company, textbook prices have gone up more than 800 percent since 1978. In a 2018 study by Cengage, a global education and technology company, 43 percent of current and former students said they have skipped meals to afford books and 31 percent said they take fewer classes to cut down on textbook costs.
Lori Winningham, vice president of academics, commented on the new English OER, “I applaud the work our English faculty did to create such a cost-savings for Butler’s English Comp I & II students. Academics is continuing to look for options to reduce textbook costs to students.”