Allan Hancock College political science professor Jessica Scarffe has long been frustrated by the ridiculous prices of textbooks required for many college courses. The costs have been steadily rising for many years now, she said, and the increased rates are significantly outpacing that of inflation.
“I just was disturbed to see students, especially in the demographic of our population, paying $200 for a textbook,” Scarffe said.
It takes 19 hours working a minimum wage job to pay for a $200 book, according to data collected by Hancock, and Scarffe said the college serves a very high percentage of low-income and first generation college students.
In a survey of 609 students conducted by Hancock’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness in 2017, 65 percent of students said they had dropped a class due to the price of a required textbook. Sixty-one percent of students surveyed said they spent at least $200 on textbooks each semester, and 45 percent said they had avoided registering for courses with costly required textbooks.
“So I’ve always been enthusiastic about reducing costs for students,” Scarffe said.
That’s why Scarffe is serving as the director of Hancock’s Zero Textbook Cost Degrees program, which will allow students to complete three associate degrees for transfer without purchasing a single textbook. Hancock is expected to launch three zero textbook degrees—in political science, liberal arts, and social and behavioral science—in fall 2018. Both on-campus and online classes will be offered, Scarffe said, and more than 20 general education requirements for any degree for transfer will also be offered through the project.
Courses included in the zero textbook degrees project, the implementation of which is being funding by a $200,000 grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, will use Open Education Resources in place of traditional textbooks.
Open Education Resources, Scarffe said, are just one part of a global movement aimed at creating a society in which equal access to education and course material is possible. For a textbook to be an Open Education Resource, it must be written, peer reviewed, and then published under and open license, rather than through a for-profit publishing company. An Open Education Resource textbook is then available for free in digital form, Scarffe said.
Hancock faculty involved in the zero textbook degrees will both use already existing Open Education Resources and create their own.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of impact we can have on our students,” Scarffe said, adding that without textbook costs, college will be more accessible to many locals.
In another effort to save students money on textbooks, the college recently purchased nearly 250 new textbooks, all required by Hancock professors, which will be available to all students for two hours at a time in the library.
The books, which cost nearly $40,000, were funded by a donation from the President’s Circle, a group of nearly 100 community and business leaders whose donations allow the college to assist thousands of students by funding unique opportunities and programs, according to a Hancock press release. The purchase, according to the release, nearly doubles the number of textbooks currently on reserve in the college’s Santa Maria and Lompoc Valley Center libraries.
More books will be added in the future to accommodate new and changing classes, according to Andrew Masuda, director of Public Affairs and Communications at Hancock.
Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at [email protected].