January 2020

Excerpted with permission from Bethel University. View original article.

students looking at computer

A new initiative to reduce or eliminate textbook costs has quickly taken off in Bethel’s College of Adult & Professional Studies, improving educational accessibility and affordability for hundreds of students. Initially a collaboration between the Bethel University Library and the Office of Academic Affairs, the Zero Cost Course Resources Initiative aligns with a national trend in higher education to help make courses more affordable.

Funded by a two-year Strategic Growth Award grant from the Bethel University Foundation, the initiative replaces traditional textbooks with Open Educational Resources (OER) and eResources from the Bethel University Library. Faculty and staff launched a pilot run with the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees in summer 2018, and the B.A. in Human ServicesB.A. in Psychology, Bethel Distinctives courses, and the graduate-level International Baccalaureate Certificate in Teaching and Learning have since followed suit. All are set to offer entirely free course resources by spring 2020, saving students approximately $1,300 per year in textbook costs.

“Every week, students would come to the research assistance desk and ask whether their required text was available at the library or one of our affiliated libraries,” says Earleen Warner, research and instruction librarian and initiative coordinator. “Sometimes they’d look at the price of the book and say, ‘Well, I guess I won’t be able to take that class.’ This initiative helps to solve that dilemma by promoting the use of OER and the library’s fantastic eResources.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of college textbooks increased by 88 percent from 2006 to 2016 and has become a significant barrier to student success. Nationally, about 40 percent of college students don’t buy all of their course materials because of ballooning prices, making them more likely to earn poor grades or drop out. For Dean of Education, Christian Ministries, and Associate Programs Judi Landrum, enhancing educational equity is a chief goal of the Zero Cost Course Resources Initiative—and early data suggests it’s working.

In a recent survey, 98 percent of students said using free course resources improved their learning and made it easier to begin or complete their degree. Besides cost savings, respondents also cited resource accessibility, ease of reading, and environmental friendliness as strengths of the initiative. While achieving zero-cost status is unrealistic for some programs, faculty and staff continue to undergo training to locate robust academic resources—and many professors and program directors have committed to using OER or library eResources whenever possible to further reduce costs for students.

“One of the beautiful things about this initiative is that it is a vehicle for collaboration among many departments at Bethel,” Landrum says. “It’s a way for us to come together and support our students.”

By Jenny Hudalla