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Community college to offer textbook-free degree

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Tidewater Community College will offer a degree program this fall that won’t require students to buy textbooks.

The project is aimed at reducing students’ expense from the rising cost of textbooks.

The community college, which has more than 30,000 students, is working with Lumen Learning, a Portland, Ore.-based company, to offer a textbook-free associate of science degree in business administration.

Instead of normal textbooks, the program will use “open” textbooks and other open educational resources, known as OER. These are freely accessible, openly licensed materials.

TCC officials said these resources are in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others.

OER can be in the form of text, but can also include videos and other types of presentations, according to TCC. Students need only a browser to use the material. The courses are being built in Blackboard, the community college system’s learning management system, which is available on a smart phone or tablet.

Although other colleges offer OER courses, TCC said it will be the first accredited U.S. college to offer a degree in which students pay nothing for required textbooks.

TCC estimates that a student who completes the degree through the textbook-free initiative might save one-third on the cost of college. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that textbooks have increased 812 percent since 1978, and the average book today costs $175.

TCC’s textbook-free pilot project will begin with the 2013-14 academic year. “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,” Daniel T. DeMarte, TCC vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer, said in a statement.

TCC will offer one section each of 21 courses in which students will not be required to buy textbooks. Thirteen faculty members will teach the sections. The courses will be delivered both on campus and online.

TCC estimates that a student who completes the degree program will save around $2,000.

Lumen Learning was founded by David Wiley, a leader in the open education movement, and Kim Thanos, an education technology strategist.

DeMarte said he decided to pursue the textbook-free initiative after hearing Wiley speak at the Virginia Community College System chancellor’s annual retreat last August.

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