Monthly Column August 2016
Faculty Contribute to College Affordability
Everyone seems to agree that a college degree helps ensure a higher quality of life and better career options. Yet, nearly every day I read an article expressing concerns regarding the affordability of attaining a college degree. Parents are worried about saving enough money to pay for tuition, fees, books, housing, and other college-related activities. Students are concerned about student loan debt and repayment. Elected officials are concerned about containing costs of a public entity that the state and federal governments must subsidize with limited taxpayer funds. College and university administrators worry about finding the right balance of affordability and amenities to meet both the financial needs and the service expectations of their prospective customers.
As a parent of a college student, I am very cognizant of the cost of higher education, but I am also proud of the affordability of public higher education opportunities in Georgia. Students in Georgia may choose from institutions all across the state with a variety of missions and campus cultures and price points. All of these institutions are offered at very reasonable rates of tuition and fees and each institution is aware of the need to ensure affordability for our students. Dalton State College was recently cited as one of the most affordable college degree options in the nation for the sixth straight year, and we’ve just been named the four-year college with the lowest student loan debt in the nation. Dalton State provides a high quality education that is accessible to students in Northwest Georgia. With our new residence hall opening this fall and food service providing nutritious meals seven days per week, we are pushing our reach beyond Northwest Georgia to attract students from beyond this region.
In addition to tuition rates, one of the things that is often cited in college affordability discussions is the high cost of textbooks. Faculty and students seem to agree that textbooks are a necessary feature of the learning experience. The College Board estimates that students spend approximately $1,200 per year on college textbooks and related classroom materials. The Student Public Interest Research Groups published a report recently that indicated the price of college textbooks has increased by 73 percent over the past decade, more than four times the rate of inflation. This is of great concern for all of us as both consumers and as educational providers.
Educators, however, have identified a number of creative ways to circumvent the rising textbook costs. If you have supported a student in college in recent years, you have no doubt learned of some of the excellent alternatives students have today for accessing their textbooks. This movement started several years ago with campus bookstores selling used textbooks at reduced costs. Later, college bookstores partnered with retail companies to provide rental textbooks. Today, our students are viewing some textbooks on their iPads and Kindles for free or downloading them at a nominal cost.
These low-cost and no-cost options are available because educators began creating their own textbooks and sharing them with other educators. Authors and publishers are foregoing royalties and profits to produce what are called “open educational resource” textbooks. OpenStax, a Rice University based publisher, is one of several such open educational resource providers of free or low cost textbooks. They publish textbooks in approximately 20 subjects including algebra, biology, and economics. These books are available online at no cost or in hard copy editions at significantly reduced costs. Furthermore, digital versions of textbooks may be relatively easily made accessible for students with disabilities. Converting traditional textbooks to braille, for example, is a very costly and time-consuming project.
The University System of Georgia launched an initiative called Affordable Learning Georgia to promote cost-saving textbook activities at our campuses. The system institutions have responded with enthusiasm, and the estimated cost savings to our students participating in the OpenStax program thus far is $3.5 million. OpenStax estimated that nearly 36 million students in the USG have been impacted to date. Soon, the USG’s ALG initiative is projected to save students $100 million per year through open-source programs. Several of the Dalton State faculty have created their own open source textbooks while others have adopted existing open source textbooks for their classes.
I remain proud every day of the work of the faculty and staff at Dalton State College who dedicate their careers to serving the needs of our students and community. Their effort to contain textbook costs for our students is merely one example of why I admire our faculty. We are all reminded occasionally to “thank a teacher.” I hope you will include our faculty when you have a chance to acknowledge such service.