Textbook sticker-shock free degree

Alyssa Foley, News Editor

Houston Community College is launching two degree options for students which feature zero textbook costs.

In fall 2017, the Z-Degree pilot program will start offering an Associate of Arts in business Administration and an Associate of Arts in General Studies. Both degree tracks will be completely free of jaw-dropping textbook price tags.

“In these times of increasing educational costs, it’s essential that HCC does everything that it possibly can to help reduce costs for student and help make a college education more affordable for our students,” said Steve Levey, HCC’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Instruction at the April 20 Board of Trustees meeting.

HCC received the first of three $100,000 annual grant awards from the Kinder Foundation to support HCC’s new Z-degree initiative. The funding will support faculty training for the development of Open Educational Resources, or OERs, and the associated courses related to them.

Open Educational Resources include any type of educational materials that are in the public domain, introduced with an open license, or otherwise not subjected to strict copyright laws. Anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.

A typical college textbook can cost hundreds of dollars, leavings some HCC students with a textbook bill larger than their tuition bill.

The cost of commercial textbooks won’t decrease anytime soon. From January 2006 to July 2016, college textbooks prices increased 88 percent according to the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In an Egalitarian online reader poll, 71 percent of respondents said that they had gone without a required textbook because it was too expensive.

The Z-Degree is a step in the right direction.

“When the Kinder Foundation heard about the on-going efforts of Houston Community College in offering the Z-Degree, we knew it was a project that we wanted to support,” said Gary Dudley, Chief of Staff of the Kinder Foundation, “The Kinder Foundation believes that the Z-degree at HCC has the potential for transformational impact of quality and quantity in developing the workforce.”

HCC Trustee Chair Eva Loredo noted that it “will not only lead to reduced costs for students, but it will also improve student’s success at HCC.”

The affordable textbook and OER movement has been driven by HCC faculty and students for years. Here’s a quick history of the free textbook movement at Houston Community College:

January 2013:
The late HCC instructor Kenneth Busbee developed an open-source Programming Fundamentals C++ textbook, which is still available on OpenStax website (bit.ly/1UtUMJm) and on his HCC Learning Web page.

May 2013:
Eleven HCC psychology faculty members adapt an OER Introduction to Psychology textbook, creating an HCC edition available to download for free from their Learning Web pages.

September 2015:
HCC Central Student Government Association and Student Library Advisory Council launch a free textbook rental program created by students for students. Students donate their used textbooks and the books are lent to other students for the entire semester, for free. The student’s long-term goal is to pressure HCC’s administration to reconsider how textbooks are chosen, with an emphasis on more affordable options for students.

April 2016:
HCC Central Student Library Advisory Council addresses the Faculty Senate to ask faculty to pledge to using free, open source materials in their classes. Seven committed that day, ten more committed to finding out more about OER.

April 2017:
The Kinder Foundation agrees to sponsor the first year of HCC’s Z-Degree, two options for students to gain a complete degree with zero textbook costs starting in September 2017.