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Editorial: Free textbooks available for students

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Free textbooks available for students but teachers still require students to pay hundreds for them

Oct. 16. 2014

Students are continually burdened by outrageous costs for textbooks and course materials, even though high-quality low-cost alternatives exist.

“Riverside City College provides a high-quality affordable education … ,” reads the first few words of the RCC mission statement. If a school states affordability in the document that outlines the purpose of the institution, would its faculty and administration consider every means possible to reduce the burden of cost on the students that are attending? Apparently not.

Textbooks and other instructional materials continue to cost students hundreds or even thousands of dollars every semester. Used and rented books also require a significant investment.

Books placed on reserve in the library severely limit access. These obstacles lower the quality of education provided by RCC and promote poor study habits to the point that many students try to avoid utilizing textbooks as much as possible. This doesn’t have to be the case.

High-quality open educational resources, which are easily available to RCC teachers, departments and students at no or low cost, continue to go underutilized.

Open educational resources consist of textbooks, curriculum recommendations, and online resources that may entirely replace the expensive textbooks and supplemental materials that many classes require. Adoption of such resources would have the impact of reducing the cost of textbooks and course materials for students and teachers to almost nothing.

California State Legislature passed Senate bills 1052 and 1053 to create a library of open educational resources for 50 of the most common college classes in 2012. The legislation was enacted by the creation of the California Open Educational Resources Council with the purpose of creating the California Open Source Digital Library.The council is composed of  three representatives from each of the University of California, California State University and California Community College school systems in order to procure open educational resources that are suitable for use in all three school systems and protect transferability of classes.

If there is a reason RCC continues to force students to spend outrageous amounts of money on educational resources it is not because of a lack of low-cost alternatives.

Since its creation the COERC has established the California Open Online Library 4 Education, also known as COOL4Ed, to provide textbooks and other high quality instructional materials that are suitable for use in UC, CSU and CCC school curriculum.

The COOL4Ed system annexes the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, which consists of over 40,000 discipline specific learning materials. It also provides materials from organizations like Rice University’s Open Stax College which produces open-source textbooks that are in use at over 450 colleges worldwide including UC Davis and UC Irvine.

Many other sources of open educational resources also exist such as OER Commons, Affordable Learning Solutions and OpenCourseWare programs, run at schools such as MIT.

As of today COERC has specifically provided textbook and open educational resources recommendations to five courses: Introduction to Chemistry, Public Speaking, Principles of Microeconomics,  United States History to 1877 and Introduction to Statistics. These materials have all been thoroughly peer-reviewed and approved for use in UC, CSU and CCC courses. Plans by the COERC are to expand recommendations to 50 courses by January 2016.

Since there is no lack of high-quality open educational resources available, it leaves us to conclude that it is because of tradition, laziness or ignorance that students are continually forced to pay such high costs for course materials.

We strongly encourage RCC professors and academic departments to consider using available open educational resources options for courses. It is unreasonable and irresponsible to require students to pay exorbitant costs for course materials when equivalent or superior low-cost alternatives exist.

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