Districts Face Textbook Costs for Low-Income Students in Dual Credit Courses

High-quality open educational resources can avoid another hit to the budget

This article was submitted by Sarah Bidwell, Assistant Director, Content Marketing at OpenStax, Rice University and Scott Hochberg, Policy Research Scholar at OpenStax, Rice University.

Yet another new cost is looming for districts and charter schools in Texas. Many colleges and universities are opting into the state’s Financial Aid for Swift Transfer (FAST) program designed to support lower-income students in dual credit courses. The program provides state funds to pay students’ tuition, but also mandates that students receiving that assistance cannot be charged any course costs - including textbooks and related materials.

Districts and charters, or their higher education partners that participate in FAST, will need to absorb the cost of selected course materials for students or, if they are unable or unwilling to do so, reconsider their dual credit course offerings. Neither of these is an ideal solution as dual credit courses increasingly play a pivotal role in a student's academic pathway, but a solution is readily available.

Open educational resources are a solution

Open educational resources, commonly referred to as OER, are free instructional materials that students, faculty and parents can access, use, and share. Over the years, OER has evolved to include high-quality textbooks, multimedia resources, and learning technology and have become a significant part of the landscape in higher ed, and increasingly, in k-12.

Spring ISD is one of many districts already using OER in their dual credit courses. Sharla Morning, a virtual social studies teacher at Spring ISD believes “choosing quality open educational resources is the equitable, logical choice for dual credit programs. For zero cost, students get access to rigorous content with the ability to be fully customizable by teachers and instructors to meet the unique needs of their learners.” She adds “There is no better way to help [students] with this transition [into higher education] than to provide them with high-quality instructional materials without negatively impacting school budgets or students' families.”

Much OER is designed and shared by teachers. But there are also major publishers who provide turnkey OER that is indistinguishable from expensive commercial textbooks. Rice University’s OpenStax provides completely free digital course materials that undergo rigorous peer review by subject matter experts. OpenStax materials are currently being used by 70% of colleges and universities across the US.

For those who prefer print over digital, the standard OER license allows schools to make whatever print copies they need. OER publishers like OpenStax also often offer low-cost print copies.

Texas law requires consideration of OER when planning dual credit courses

It is ultimately the role of the higher ed institution to choose the textbook for each dual credit course. But the Texas Education Code requires that OER be part of the discussion when planning each course. Section 28.009 (b-2) requires that any agreement to provide a dual credit program must “require the district and the institution to consider the use of free or low-cost open educational resources in courses offered under the program.”

Not having that discussion when planning dual credit offerings can result in substantial textbook costs that can no longer be passed on to students who are in the FAST program.

By making administrators aware of the role of open educational resources in dual credit courses, school business officials can lead their districts towards financial savings without compromising quality of education.

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