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Ava Zolfaghari/Contributing Illustration
Working towards a cheap book future
Pierce staff and student government works with state legislature on open education resources projects
December 13, 2017
Textbook costs have been the bane of college students for a long time. Quill West, the director of the Open Education Project at Pierce, says textbooks are almost like a “hidden cost,” since they aren’t listed as part of tuition costs.
“Access is a big issue,” West said. “Many students don’t buy textbooks at all because of the price, knowing full well that it may affect their grades, and community college students are the ones most likely to not be able to afford them. Textbooks are supposed to be a support structure for students that helps them learn. They cannot fulfill that role if they are such a financial burden.”
According to West, the goal is not to simply replace the role of traditional textbook publishers. The Open Education Project is a combined effort by students, Pierce faculty, and state legislators to bring cheaper, perhaps even free, options to students when it comes to textbooks. Already, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord campus has one such program up and running: Pierce Open Pathway (POP). All five of Washington’s public universities and The Evergreen State College accept credits from this transfer degree, and saves students costs by allowing a mixture of free resources both online and from the library that teachers can also use for a more customized class experience rather than having to rely explicitly on traditional textbooks.
At the Fort Steilacoom and Puyallup campuses, the pre-nursing and associate of arts degrees are the most enrolled, and those are the degrees West hopes to focus the Open Education Project on next. Recently, she and the previous Student Government met with state legislators to talk more about the project.
West spoke about the importance of student involvement: “The voices of students carries more weight than even mine,” she said. “The demand from students was big enough that state legislators reached out to ask me about it.”
She also spoke highly of working with Pierce faculty and the Student Government.
“One of the really powerful things is I don’t have to convince the board or faculty because they already know and believe. When I go to colleagues to ask for support I go with the full support of the Student Government,” she said.
Elijah Ellis, student body president, helped organize the student government’s meeting with West. He spoke about picking up a role in the project from the last student government, and what it was like having that torch passed to him and the other members of the current student government.
“OER [Open Education Resources] is one of our main focus points this year,” he said. “They [the previous student government] all left information for us to pick up on this year. It’s a good starting point. The hard part, really, about OER is finding the material for the classes. There’s so many classes that you need specific materials for, and finding affordable resources for that material often ends up being a problem.”
Ellis specifically mentioned the pre-nursing track specifically when it came to finding these materials. For these science-heavy degrees, courses can often require more than the standard textbooks. Ellis specifically talked about CDs that contain specific study programs and require one-time use activation codes, meaning they can’t be reused.
“The OER is important because students already pay high tuition costs,” Ellis said. “Depending on their degree track, you have hundreds of dollars of books that you use for only one class or two quarters at a time, and then don’t need them anymore. And a lot of the time, you can’t even resell these books because a lot of them have those activation codes. So what you have to do is find other materials that can replace that, and make it more affordable for students, which is the big thing with OER, To help students stay out of that debt.”
Ellis agreed with West’s statement that textbooks are like a “hidden cost,” a cost that can take students by surprise.
“You come in and look at a book, and some of these math are $300, some of these science books are three, four hundred dollars, and that’s on top of the tuition they’re already paying. We’ve talked to some other groups and departments on campus, and they’re having this same issue. The OER will be beneficial to everybody. Even the Veterans [Resource] Center is looking at trying to find more open resources. Everywhere you look it’s going to benefit the students, because if they’re paying too much for a book, they’re less likely to take a classes they need.”
"The voices of students carries more weight than even mine."
-Quill West, director of the open education resources project
Both West and Ellis attended a meeting with state legislators over the summer regarding the OER project, and there has been movement in state legislature itself towards alleviating the strain textbook costs puts on students.
State Representative Melanie Stambaugh, a Republican and member of the House Higher Education Committee, has advocated for multiple years for lowering textbook costs or providing other options to students. In 2015, she sponsored the legislation that established an open education resources pilot program at Eastern Washington University. In 2016, she introduced and passed legislation that further expanded the OER pilot program to six of the state’s four-year universities. This year, Stambaugh sponsored House Bill 1768, which would authorize the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) to bolster OER programs by awarding grants of $100,000 to all six of the four-year universities.
In a written statement, Stambaugh said, “Washington state’s four-year colleges would be able to use grants to increase the number of students with access to OER materials and provide faculty with increased assistance in developing them.”
House Bill 1768 sits in the House Committee, where it waits its turn to be heard on the floor.