Open Books courses will save students $3.5 million: Digital course materials increase opportunities for degree completion

09.12.2017 | By Andrea Vasquez

HOUSTON – Today’s college students often face the decision of buying a textbook or paying their light bill. As textbook prices continue to rise, college retention rates decrease. Textbook costs remain one of the largest barriers to student success and degree completion.

Since 1978, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that college textbook prices have risen more than 800 percent. Within the last decade alone, textbook costs have increased by 73 percent- more than four times the rate of inflation.

Beginning this fall semester, San Jacinto College’s Open Books courses will meet the growing need for quality, affordable course materials that students and faculty have been waiting for.

“Open Books is a chance for San Jacinto College to help reduce the cost of going to college for thousands of students,” said Mark Johnson, San Jacinto College dean of business and technology and Open Books project director. “Textbooks can be up to half of a student’s cost of attending college. A typical full-time student taking 12 or more credits could easily spend $1,400 a year on textbooks. The high cost of textbooks can make it impossible for students to attend or stay enrolled in college. We didn’t want students having to choose between paying their electricity bill or buying their chemistry textbook.”

Funded by a grant from Achieving the Dream, participating San Jacinto College faculty will be provided with an array of open educational resources (OER) that feature peer-reviewed, open-licensed digital textbooks and course materials from Lumen Learning. OER includes full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other digital course materials that faculty can use as is, repurpose or adapt to fit their specific course needs. OER materials also provide more flexibility for faculty as they set the student learning outcomes (SLOs) for their courses. Students also have access to their course materials on day one, eliminating delays that students experience working on assignments due to the ability to purchase the textbook.

“As a faculty member, Open Books has allowed me to use the continuous academic freedom that our College has always promoted,” said Tonja Conerly, San Jacinto College sociology professor and Open Books project coordinator. “I am working with an endless number of peers literally throughout the world, sharing knowledge and different teaching techniques. Open Books really allows our faculty to enhance their pedagogy because they can tailor these unique resources to their specific course’s student learning outcomes. At the end of the day, we’re providing them with the same quality, peer-reviewed educational resources, but with no cost or a very low cost to our students.”

Based on the spring 2017 pilot, 24 San Jacinto College faculty taught 33 sections of Open Books courses saving 687 students $119,616 in textbook costs. Johnson says the College intends to dramatically increase the number of course offerings by spring 2020, estimating that students could save more than $3.5 million. This fall, students will also be able to earn associate of arts degrees in general studies and business entirely through Open Books courses.

“After the first year of implementing the Achieving the Dream OER degree grant, San Jacinto College has saved students $410,000 in textbook costs. We’re also watching to see what kind of positive impact Open Books will have on student success in the classroom. Other colleges across the country, like Tidewater College in Virginia, have reported that students enrolled in OER courses have performed 6 percent better in the classroom than students in classes without OER.  This is likely because students in OER courses have their course materials on the first day of class.”

Watch a short video on San Jacinto College Open Books courses.

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each semester benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

For more information about San Jacinto College call 281-998-6150, visit or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.