Making College More Affordable

From free textbooks to open computers, WCC looks for ways to help students cut costs.

Kelli Gilbert had a tough decision to make. If she spent $360 on the four textbooks she needed for classes, she wouldn’t have enough money left to pay the car insurance bill that had come due.

“I lost either way,” said the 21-year-old from Pinckney who is working three part-time jobs to support herself and pay for Criminal Justice classes. “I had to choose either not being able to get to class, or get to class but not be able to do the work.”

The scenario Gilbert faced is not unusual. That’s why Washtenaw Community College faculty and staff are working to help students lower the cost of going to school by replacing required textbooks with Open Education Resources (OER).

OERs are similar to textbooks in that they offer the same quality of information and are vetted for accuracy. They have the same type of authors: industry professionals and faculty from around the nation. The difference? OERs are free. They include textbooks, course materials, modules, streaming videos or classroom activities.

During the Fall 2017 semester, WCC faculty members used OERs in 21 different classes, generating an estimated savings of more than $858,000 if students had purchased new textbooks for those classes.

“The savings are astonishing and allow a student to focus more on schoolwork instead of worrying about another expense,” said Vice President for Instruction Dr. Kimberly Hurns. For example, students enrolled in WCC’s Biology 101 course are no longer required to purchase a $275 textbook; in its place is a required OER that is available free online.

Humanities department instructors Bonnie Tew and Claire Sparklin are among the WCC faculty who created their own OERs from scratch and continue to advocate their use on campus.

“After finding out what a big difference it made in students’ lives, I couldn’t turn my back on OERs,” Sparklin said.

Business & Computer Technologies faculty member Douglas Waters recently introduced a new hybrid “Intro to Business Law at WCC” OER to his class, replacing a $150 textbook.

Waters took portions of several existing OERs and customized them to fit his class syllabus.

That process not only allowed him to organize the text as he prefers to cover lessons in class, but he was also able to align content with that being taught at Eastern Michigan University, where many of WCC’s business students transfer to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

“It makes so much sense not only for our students, but also as an instructor,” Waters said. “Unlike a textbook, my OER is now a living, breathing resource that I can continually update and improve.”

WCC currently offers OERs in biology, business, chemistry, communication, English, geology, mathematics, music and nursing programs. OERs are being introduced to larger classes first to offset costs to as many students as possible up front. More than 20 classes at WCC have adopted their use.

Learn more about Bailey Library’s OERs at:

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