ACC Teaches Without Textbooks
Open-source resources help keep education affordable
As enrollment for the spring semester at Austin Community College gets underway, the school is encouraging students to consider signing up for "Z-classes," which help make college more affordable by eliminating the need for costly textbooks. The courses cover a variety of subjects across a range of degree pathways, but they all have one thing in common: None require the purchase of a textbook. School officials estimate that the average textbook for an ACC course costs $100, and they can cost students about $2,000 throughout the completion of a degree.
Instead of a traditional printed textbook, Z-classes rely on "open educational resources" (OER). All of the information contained within OER is licensed under Creative Commons copyright law, which not only allows professors to use the materials free of charge, but also to modify them to better suit a specific class. ACC professor Heather Syrett explained that using OER in her courses has had another benefit: Every student, including those who can't afford a textbook right away, has access to the materials they need on day one of the semester. "It's a big help having the materials available to everyone online, because students can fall behind in the first week or two of a course if they don't have the book," she said.
The program has thus far been a success for ACC. The courses were introduced in spring 2017; by fall 2018, 9,600 students were enrolled in Z-classes, with an estimated savings on textbook costs of $2,120,700. The college is even offering two new "Z-degree" plans for associate's degrees in general studies, which do not require the purchase of a single textbook for the entire course of study.