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TCC expands role in zero-textbook-cost education

Tidewater Community College will participate in a national initiative to develop degree programs using high quality open educational resources (OER) in place of printed textbooks.

The Achieving the Dream initiative – involving 38 community colleges in 13 states – is designed to achieve two goals:

  • Remove financial roadblocks that often derail students’ progress; and
  • Spur improvements in teaching, learning and course design to increase the likelihood of degree and certificate completion.

“Our use of OER is changing the conversation about student success and learning outcomes,” said Daniel DeMarte, TCC’s vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer. “That is the real power of open educational resources.”

Colleges were selected through a competitive grant process based on their ability and capacity to implement OER degree programs, offer the full complement of degree courses quickly, or quickly scale the number of sections offered.

TCC was the first regionally accredited institution of higher education to offer a complete zero-textbook-cost degree using OER. The program, called the Z-Degree, began in 2013 as a pilot.  

Z-Degree Program: Linda Williams

More than 5,000 students have enrolled in at least one Z-course since the program’s inception.

Recent analysis showed a gain of as much as 6 percent in the number of students who complete Z-courses and who receive a grade of C or better compared to traditional textbook-based courses.

Using a conservative estimate of $100 per student per course, TCC students have saved over $500,000 since 2013.

TCC expects to expand its Z-Degree offerings during the 2016-17 school year. The annual cost of textbooks is about $1,300 for a full-time community college student, which research shows is a significant barrier to college completion.

Students who don’t complete college are over 50 percent more likely than those who graduated to cite textbook costs as a major financial barrier, according to a study by the research firm Public Agenda.

The Achieving the Dream effort, which will be available to a minimum of 76,000 students over three years, is intended to spark more rapid adoption of OER within higher education, beginning with community colleges.

While enough open educational materials are available to replace textbooks in required courses in 4 two-year programs – business administration, general education, natural or general science, and social science – only a few colleges use those resources.

The $9.8 million in funding for the initiative comes from a consortium of investors that includes the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, the Shelter Hill Foundation and the Speedwell Foundation.

Lumen Learning will provide technical assistance; SRI International will evaluate the initiative and conduct research on how OER degrees impact student success and the institutions providing them; and the Community College Consortium of Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) will facilitate a community of practice.