Through a $2 million shared grant from the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, Yavapai College is leading a consortium of eight Arizona community colleges to develop Open Educational Resources, or OERs, to reduce the amount of money students must spend on textbooks.

In June 2021, the Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona project was awarded $801,218. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that they were increasing the grant award by $1,198,782, to bring the grant award total to $2 million. With these additional funds, Cochise College, the only rural Arizona Community College not originally included in the proposal, will be joining the consortium.

The three-year Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona initiative will foster the creation and provision of free, open-source materials instead of costly traditional textbooks. “The grant allows us to develop and expand the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in our courses.” Yavapai College Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Diane Ryan explained. “These are materials – learning modules, software, streaming videos, text material, assignments and assessments – that are in the public domain or licensed with a Creative Commons license and can be used as a free alternative to expensive textbooks.”

The Open Textbooks for Rural Arizona project commenced in September 2021, with the goal of converting 31 courses to OER materials by August 31, 2024. The first year of the project focused on building the foundation, launching the project’s OER Commons Hub, and professional development for faculty and staff. “This award notice is the Department of Education recognizing the amazing work we have accomplished so far.” Yavapai College’s Manager of Academic Initiatives, Megan Crossfield shared. Over the next two years, consortium partners, Arizona Western College, Arizona Eastern College, Central Arizona College, Cochise College, Coconino Community College, Mohave Community College, Northland Pioneer College, and Yavapai College will continue developing and sharing OERs.

OERs have been gaining popularity across the nation, and the world, to offset the cost of college textbooks. Once regarded as an incidental expense, college textbook costs have risen by more than 142% since 1998. In an era with many students already burdened by loan debt, high textbook costs have often restricted collegiate ambitions or prevented them altogether. “A Florida study shows us that more than 60% of students do not purchase textbooks at some point due to cost,” Ryan explained. “Another 31% have not taken a course due to textbook costs, and 14% have dropped a course due to textbook costs.”