GRCC replaces nearly $590,000 in textbooks through open educational partnerships



Leah Nixon

Director of Communications

(616) 234-4213

Dec. 8, 2016 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Through its new partnerships with the OpenStax program and other providers of free digital resources, Grand Rapids Community College has replaced almost $590,000 in textbooks with free or substantially less expensive versions.

In February, GRCC joined Rice University's OpenStax program, which provides free, high-quality peer-reviewed textbooks. This semester, more than 90 GRCC class sections -- including biology, math, business, theater, English, history, physics and chemistry classes -- used the open-educational resource, or OER, texts. 

"I think our first semester has been a big success!" said Michael Vargo, dean of GRCC's School of Arts and Sciences. "Anything that we can do to reduce the cost of attending college improves access to higher education in our community."

The total cost of the commercial textbooks that GRCC replaced with OER versions is $589,828. Actual savings to students varies, depending on whether they would have bought a new or used textbook or if they would have rented -- or gone without -- one. With OpenStax, students may use the texts online for free or pay a significantly reduced cost for a printed version. 

OpenStax research shows that 90 percent of students opt for the free online textbooks. That would mean that students in GRCC's OER class sections saved more than $570,000 during the fall semester alone. 

Vargo noted that the savings estimates do not take into account one group of students: those who wouldn't have purchased a textbook at all.

"A recent study indicated that 40 percent of students don't purchase a required text because of the cost," he said. "Community colleges serve a large number of impoverished and working-class students, who are particularly susceptible to increases in higher ed costs. The OER initiative plays an essential role in assuring equitable access for economically challenged students – populations inordinately served by community colleges."

GRCC has been working to make more students aware of open-education resource textbooks. Students can now run searches for OER class sections when setting up their schedules. Professors and adjunct instructors are also sharing information about the program.

"This is part of a national movement in higher education, and I'm really proud of the way GRCC has embraced this initiative," Vargo said. "We are excited about expanding this program on behalf of our students and helping to keep high-quality education affordable to members of our community."

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 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.