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MiraCosta College Doing Even More to Keep College Affordable

Oceanside CA— MiraCosta has been awarded a $50,000 grant that will enable the college to convert 50 core classes to a low/no-cost textbook format by 2018. Those classes are in mathematics, oceanography, sociology, international languages, and child development. This is the next step in its ongoing efforts to increase college affordability for students by expanding course offerings that use low- or no-cost, high quality, affordable educational resources. Once all 50 sections have been converted, MiraCosta will be saving students in those classes $250,000 each semester.

“Students and parents alike cite rising textbook costs as a significant barrier for too many students seeking to secure a college education and we are committed to doing what we can to alleviate this burden,” said Dr. Sunita “Sunny” Cooke, superintendent/president of the MiraCosta Community College District. “Promoting low- or no-cost, high quality educational resources is another important factor in making college more affordable.”

Many MiraCosta College instructors have been early adopters doing their part to keep costs low for students by adopting or creating low- or no-cost course materials and making them available to students at the low cost of printing or making online versions of the book free to MiraCosta students.

MiraCosta College’s Child Development Department is one department on campus to utilize Open Educational Resources (OER) for an entire training program. Among the initiatives is a Child Development Certificate program that, beginning in fall 2017, can be completed without a student having to pay for any textbooks, thanks to online and other free resources that maintain the same high standard of learning, said Penny Skemp, the child development department chair. Other departments utilizing the free or low-cost option include sociology and computer studies.

A recent study by Student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) found that textbook costs have increased by 73 percent since 2006. A 2014 report found that two-thirds of college students skipped buying or renting some of their textbooks due to cost, and nearly half of college students said textbook prices had impacted which courses and how many courses they were able to take. This means going the no-cost textbook route has an impact on student success in that materials will be available to them at the beginning of the semester as opposed to students delaying purchase or foregoing purchase completely due to cost.

Textbook costs vary, but the National Association of College Stores says students spent an average of $563 annually on textbooks in the 2014-15 academic year, with first-year students spending nearly double that amount. That leaves textbook costs as the most significant obstacle in affording an education at MiraCosta College. Why? Almost two-thirds of students at MiraCosta College do not pay enrollment fees thanks to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors Fee Waiver program. If textbook costs were to be virtually eliminated, eligible students would qualify to attend college for free without further investments from the public. This would extend the opportunity for a college education to more individuals within our community and therefore increase the economic mobility of these individuals.

The move to reduce or eliminate textbook costs is being explored throughout California. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that requires colleges by Jan. 1, 2018, to “clearly highlight” on the course schedule those classes that exclusively use digital course materials and are free of charge to students and may have a low-cost option for print versions.

The state also is promoting Zero Textbook Cost degree programs by making $5 million available in grants for community colleges. Zero Textbook Cost degrees differ from related degree programs only in that all course sections use only instructional materials that are free to students.

“Textbooks for a course frequently may cost three times the cost of the actual community college course and so making textbooks affordable through low- and no-cost options is a crucial affordability measure allowing more students to access higher education and also to be successful in course work,” said Dr. Cooke.

And, in early September, some 100 representatives from the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA) met for a full-day discussion about ways to expand the use of Open Educational Resources and create Zero Textbook Cost programs for their students.