GRCC partnership means lower textbook costs for students



Leah Nixon

Director of Communications

(616) 234-4213

Feb. 1, 2016 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A new partnership could lower textbook costs for Grand Rapids Community College students.

GRCC has partnered with Rice University’s OpenStax program to encourage the use of free, peer-reviewed textbooks on campus.

"Expenses that aren't covered by tuition, such as textbooks, can be a barrier to our students' efforts to complete their degrees," said President Dr. Steven C. Ender. "We are always looking for ways to help our students succeed, and the use of open-resource textbooks is an important way to do that."

According to Michael Vargo, dean of GRCC's School of Arts and Sciences, full-time students spend $1,000 to $1,300 annually on textbooks. "That is nearly an entire semester's full-time tuition here at GRCC!" he said.

Vargo said textbook expenses especially affect economically challenged and working-class students -- populations that make up a significant portion of community college enrollment. One study notes that for each $1,000 increase in educational costs, the probability of students from these two groups continuing with their college studies dropped by 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

The OpenStax textbooks are online, but students can get printed versions at greatly reduced prices. Business professor Garret Brand, who helped review open educational resource options for GRCC, said faculty members are looking at the OpenStax inventory, and students may start using texts as soon as they are offered.

Vargo said several recent studies suggest that students in classes using open education resources spend their textbook savings on their education by taking additional courses.

"This doesn't surprise me," he said. "Our students are smart -- their educations are important to them. But they are forced by circumstance to be frugal. If we can figure out a way to put more money in their pockets, they are going to put that money to work by advancing their educations."

Brent Spitler, an associate professor in GRCC's business department, is switching to an OpenStax textbook for a statistics class this fall.

"Students can easily access the text directly from the OpenStax website, where they have the option to download a full copy, an e-book, or access the necessary information to obtain a traditional bound printed copy at cost," he said.

In addition to the savings for students, use of the digital texts gives him some flexibility, Spitler said.

"We also have the ability to provide additional content -- effectively customizing the materials to our specific course objectives," he said. "This is an opportunity to bring in input from other resources, like our Tutorial Lab coordinator as well as industry advisory groups. Once we develop this customized material, we can provide it, copyrighted, to OpenStax for use by other institutions."

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.