Story by Bracey Harris, The Clarion-Ledger
A new program this fall, spearheaded by the University of Mississippi, will allow students at participating universities and community colleges in the state to enroll in courses that offer free or reduced-cost textbooks with the ultimate goal of creating a pathway to obtaining a degree with limited textbook costs.
Faculty members from Ole Miss, Mississippi State University, Delta State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi University for Women and Northeast Mississippi Community College have signed on for the first phase of the “Z-Degree Mississippi” initiative. The model is based in part on the “Z-Degree” program at Tidewater Community College in Virginia in which students earn an associate degree in business administration with no textbook costs. Mississippi’s program aims to duplicate that with a four-year degree by 2020.
Sharon Morrisey, vice chancellor for academic services for the Virginia Community College System, told Inside Higher Ed that more than 2,500 students have saved a collective $253,400 by forgoing textbook costs.
To accomplish this, faculty rely on Open Educational Resources materials for instruction available online at little or no cost.
According to the state College Board, the estimated annual cost for books and supplies for in-state, full-time undergraduate students at a public university is $1,298. At Ole Miss and MSU, that estimate dips to $1,200, but for some the price tag is still too high.
Nicole Leach, an assistant professor of educational psychology at MSU, said some of her past students have forgone buying textbooks. Not having the material, Leach said, meant giving lectures to students who had not completed supplemental assigned readings. The result: At best, students weren’t able to fully engage; at worst, they were disoriented and subject to falling behind.
“(I believe) land grant universities have a certain responsibility to serve under-represented students, particularly local students who do not have hundreds of dollars for textbooks,” she said.
Passionate about affordability, Leach incorporated Open Educational Resources materials into her summer course and plans to do the same this fall.
Another perk to going online was having the ability to make the text more dynamic with multimedia elements such as podcasts and video clips.
“Z-Degree Mississippi” is being funded by the Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Ole Miss College of Liberal Arts. Robert Cummings, chairman of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric said faculty, who receive grants to participate, are expected to contribute and review academic materials from their respective fields, but grantees are paid for their time.