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Barton Community College Ditches Textbooks for Open-Source Materials

A public community college in Kansas aims to rely on Open Education Resource (OER) materials, or online sources, rather than hard-copy books. The college offers over 160 OER-certified courses, most of which are online.

Reading books with an E-book
(TNS) — Barton Community College is working toward a textbook-free future.

Vice President of Instruction Elaine Simmons described the Textbook Freedom Campaign at a recent BCC Board of Trustees study session. The college is spreading the word about its initiative to create courses that rely on Open Education Resource (OER) materials. These are often online sources rather than hard-copy books and they may be available to students at no cost or at a low cost — $50 or less.

"We are giving students the opportunity to free themselves from the increasing costs of college textbooks and course materials," Simmons said.

Barton currently offers over 160 OER-certified courses, mainly through Barton Online.

As of May 2024, students at Barton Community College have saved more than $1.2 million on textbooks and other course resources since 2019, Simmons reported.

The Education Data Initiative(EDI) reports that the average postsecondary student spent between $628 and $1,200 annually for books and supplies as of the 2021-2022 academic year. Hard-copy books can cost as much as $400, with an average price between $100 and $150.

Barton's OER certification process supports faculty members' research to identify open educational resources.

According to EDI, student spending on course materials has declined in recent years, thanks to eBooks, while the price of hard-copy books has increased. Across the nation, 25 percent of students reported they worked extra hours to pay for their books and materials; 11 percent skipped meals in order to afford books and course materials; and 66 percent of college students skipped buying or renting course materials such as textbooks at some point in their career as they were too expensive.

That is why a growing number of postsecondary institution professors now require the use of OERs for students. Barton's Director of Innovation and Compliance Lee Miller has spearheaded the OER initiative since its inception in 2019.

Last year, when Barton's OER Initiative hit a milestone of saving students over $500,000, Miller said cost savings are determined using a conservative estimate of $100 saved per student per textbook or resource per course. She said this is an estimate adopted from research that the Kansas Board of Regents OER steering committee also used for a similar proposal.

"As with all good things, things must change and continue to grow," Miller said in 2023. "With continued instructional support and faculty engagement, we continue to work toward creating low-cost degree options to further address affordability and access to higher education for all students."

The Kansas Board of Regents OER Steering Committee report of June 2023 recognized Barton as a leader among community colleges in this area. All seven regents universities have implemented OER/free/low-cost course marking, as well as Barton and Butler Community Colleges. Other community colleges indicated they were in the planning and development stages.

Most institutions cited a lack of resources as the leading barrier to OER adoption.

©2024 Great Bend Tribune, Kan. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.