Islander faculty, staff, and students form new Affordable Learning Tools Committee to change cost of education

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A cross-campus collaborative group of Islander students, faculty, and staff is taking a closer look at the high cost of some learning materials. The Affordable Learning Tools Committee, formed in spring 2020, includes 16 members focused on decreasing the costs students pay to attend Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi by encouraging the adoption of both open educational resources – openly licensed learning materials that can be used for free or at a reduced cost, and alternative resources in lieu of expensive textbooks.

The committee features one student representative from the A&M-Corpus Christi Student Government Association, along with faculty from each College and representatives from various University departments including: the Registrar; University Services; the Office of Distance Education and Learning Technologies (ODELT); Research and Innovation; Center for Faculty Excellence; Disability Services; and the Mary and Jeff Bell Library.

 “We are in an economic downturn due to the pandemic; many people have lost jobs. This means that making college more affordable is more important than ever,” Lisa Louis, Committee Chair, and Head of Research and Learning at the Bell Library said. “Textbook costs have skyrocketed over the last few decades. Only five companies control much of the textbook market; this means there is reduced competition and little incentive to lower prices. Students are a captive audience and must purchase the required books or risk a lower grade in the class or other negative consequences.”

Acknowledging that as the cost of a college education has increased, so has student debt – the ALTC is working toward three long-term goals, including finding opportunities to lower textbook costs for students, complying with state legislation related to textbook affordability, and working with faculty to integrate open educational resources and other affordable materials into their courses.

 “Eventually, we intend to involve students and faculty in exploring the creation of a “low-cost” course marker in the class schedule, assuming that this is approved by university administration,” Louis said. “While the committee has no direct funding, funding has been made available from the Bell Library, The Center for Faculty Excellence, and ODELT for initiatives relating to open educational resources.”

According to the 2018 Florida Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey, almost 43% of students took fewer classes because they could not afford the required course books, extending the time it takes to graduate. In the same study, 64% of students reported not buying a required textbook; 35% believed this had harmed their grade in a class; 17% believed it had caused them to fail a class.

As someone who is both a graduate student and employee of A&M-Corpus Christi, Phebe Leach, ALTC member and SGA representative says she knows very well how the cost of textbooks and class materials can create challenges for students.

 “I've seen students try to go without a textbook entirely when it was necessary.  Most commonly, students will attempt to finish a whole semester's worth of work in the span of a two-week free trial,” Leach said. “The work being done here in a collaborative effort on this committee will make a huge impact on affordability and alleviating some of the struggle of students pursuing their education."

Moving forward into spring 2021, the ALTC plans to continue outreach and education efforts with both students and faculty, to help encourage the adoption of more affordable course materials at TAMU-CC.