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Tidewater Community College partners with Lumen Learning to offer textbook-free degree

Tidewater Community College will launch a pilot project this fall aimed at easing the pain of soaring textbook costs for college students.

Partnering with Lumen Learning, a Portland, Ore.-based company that helps educational institutions integrate open educational resources into their curricula, TCC plans to offer a textbook-free associate of science degree in business administration based on Lumen’s Textbook Zero model.

For students who pursue the new “textbook-free” degree, the total cost for required textbooks will be zero. Instead, the program will use high quality open textbooks and other open educational resources, known as OER, which are freely accessible, openly licensed materials useful for teaching, learning, assessment and research. It is estimated that a TCC student who completes the degree through the textbook-free initiative might save one-third on the cost of college.

Z-Degree logoAlthough many colleges offer OER courses, TCC will be the first accredited institution in the United States to offer a degree in which students pay nothing for required textbooks.

TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani described the initiative as a significant step toward making a higher education more accessible and affordable. “We have worked with our bookstore partner, Barnes and Noble, to offer students options,” she said. “Textbooks can be purchased new or used and many are available as rentals or eText. This initiative offers yet another option: to skip traditional textbooks entirely. ”

TCC’s textbook-free pilot project will begin with the 2013-14 academic year, said Daniel T. DeMarte, TCC vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer. “If we’re successful, we will see increased access and affordability for students; faculty engaged in learning about and refining the use of OER; and greater faculty and student understanding of learning outcomes,” he said.

The college will offer one section each of 21 courses for which students will not be required to buy textbooks. Thirteen faculty members will teach the sections. “The business administration degree produces more than 350 graduates annually, the second highest among the college’s offerings, and the department has an innovative faculty member who is familiar with OER and willing to lead the initiative,” DeMarte said. The courses will be delivered both on campus and online. It is estimated that a student who completes the degree will have saved around $2,000; actual savings will be calculated when the program is evaluated.

Lumen Learning was founded by David Wiley, described by some as the “father of the open education movement,” and Kim Thanos, an education technology strategist. “A Textbook Zero degree is the next beachhead in demonstrating the real impact OER can have on making higher education more affordable,” Wiley said. “This bold move by TCC’s leadership and business faculty forges a path we expect many others will follow.” TCC contracted with Lumen to help identify the best OER, support the faculty building the courses and ensure copyright compliance.

DeMarte said he was inspired to pursue the initiative after hearing Wiley speak at the Virginia Community College System Chancellor’s Annual Retreat last August. It’s too early to tell what kind of demand the textbook-free degree option will generate, he said. “We will be deliberate and strategic with this effort remaining focused on student success and high-quality education,” he said.


Lumen Learning ( provides an evidence-based approach for using open educational resources (OER) to eliminate textbook costs and improve student success. Founded by open education innovator Dr. David Wiley and education technology strategist Kim Thanos, the Lumen team has played an integral role in several of the most influential OER initiatives to date in secondary and higher education. Lumen services guide educators in integrating OER into academic strategy, training and supporting faculty, measuring success and improving the quality of OER-based courses over time.