Digital textbooks offer educational access and affordability

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.

In order to help eliminate this barrier, beginning in the fall 2017 semester, San Jacinto College began offering courses that used open educational resources (OER). Funded by a grant from Achieving the Dream, participating faculty are trained on how to access an array of OER course materials that feature peer-reviewed, open-licensed digital textbooks and materials from Lumen Learning. Open educational resources include 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.

Along with providing more flexibility for faculty as they set the student learning outcomes for their courses, OER course materials also allow faculty to have a direct impact on textbook costs and student success. Students enrolled in OER course sections will only incur a minimal technology fee for course materials, a savings of more than 96 percent compared to a $300 textbook. And because these are digital course materials, students have access to everything prior to or on the first day of class, thus eliminating delays that students often experience working on assignments due to the inability to purchase the required textbook. This ultimately plays a significant role in increasing student success, retention and completion rates.


In spring 2017, the College implemented an OER pilot program that consisted of 687 students and 24 faculty teaching 33 OER course sections that saved those students approximately $120,000 in textbook costs. After implementing OER course sections College-wide by fall 2017, there were 184 sections offered with 4,509 students enrolled in OER courses who saved nearly $500,000. The College intends to dramatically increase the number of OER course offerings by spring 2020, estimating that students could save more than $3.5 million. In addition to individual OER courses, students can now earn associate of arts degrees in general studies and business entirely through OER courses.