Grants awarded to faculty teams to create free course materials for students, reducing costs of college attendance

three students studying rocks

As part of its continuing work to reduce the costs of college attendance and increase equity in student outcomes, the Tennessee Board of Regents is awarding grants to faculty teams at seven community colleges to create learning materials for their courses that students will use for free, in lieu of commercially published textbooks.

The grants totaling $314,536 will be distributed to 12 faculty and staff teams who will use free or low-cost Open Educational Resources to create student learning materials for general education courses, including anatomy and physiology, English composition, Tennessee history, U.S. history, psychology, public speaking and mathematics.

Colleges involved in this first round of grant funding are Chattanooga State, Columbia State, Nashville State, Northeast State, Pellissippi State, Roane State and Southwest Tennessee community colleges. The goal is to expand to more colleges and courses if funding becomes available.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials that are either in the public domain or licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute, “the 5Rs” undergirding the initiative.

“The cost of attendance is still a barrier for many students. Even with Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, which cover tuition and mandatory fees at our community and technical colleges, many students tell us they can’t afford textbooks,” said TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings. “Development of learning materials that are free for students is the critical next step in our efforts to make college affordable for all Tennesseans.”

High textbook costs are forcing many students to make decisions that compromise their academic success. As part of a study by Elizabeth Spica at the University of Tennessee Postsecondary Education Research Center, a 2019 survey of Tennessee community college students found that students across the state are taking fewer classes, avoiding certain majors, and not purchasing required materials due to their cost.

The UT report found that students spend an average of $119.18 on textbooks and other materials per course, that 44 percent of students did not buy the materials due to their costs, 29 percent have taken fewer courses due to the costs and 17 percent have earned a poor grade because they could not afford the required materials.

The purpose of the grant program is to improve learning outcomes for all students, with a focus on increasing access and success for traditionally underserved and underrepresented student populations. The learning materials created by the faculty teams will be available for free student use starting in Fall 2021.

“Open Educational Resources doesn’t require faculty to develop from scratch their own textbook. It allows them to curate material from all the other faculty and institutions who have developed material. Some faculty might be writing original content, and some may be adapting others,” said Dr. Robert M. Denn, TBR associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“In addition to saving students money, by incorporating OER in their classes, faculty can re-energize their teaching and better engage the students in the learning outcomes they have in their classes. When faculty can align their materials directly to their course of study, it’s better for their students,” Denn said.

This opportunity also allows faculty to consider using inclusive teaching concepts to develop course content that is relevant for the course and for the students in the class.

OER is the second phase of the Tennessee Board of Regents Digital Engagement initiative to reduce the costs of learning materials for students. The first phase offered digital textbooks and course materials at reduced costs to students, with an opportunity to opt out and buy traditional textbooks from a provider of their choosing. Building on that success, TBR is now setting its sights on Phase Two – the use of Open Educational Resources to create learning materials at no cost to students.

The grant recipients – college, lead faculty member and courses:

Chattanooga State Community College:

     Michael Anderson, Biology 2010 Anatomy & Physiology I

Columbia State Community College:

     Christina Loucks, English 1010 Composition I

     Judith Westley, English 1020 Composition II

Nashville State Community College:

     Robert Ladd, English 1010, 1020, 2310

Northeast State Community College:

     Tabetha Garman, History 2030 Tennessee History

Pellissippi State Community College:

     Antija Allen, Psychology 1030 General Psychology

     Shaquille Marsh, Communications 2045 Public Speaking

Roane State Community College:

     Jillian Miler, Mathematics 1010 Math for General Studies

Southwest Tennessee Community College:

     Sherria King, Psychology 1030 General Psychology

     John Stephenson, History 2020 Modern U.S. History

     Shirley Stewart, HPER 1570 Wellness Perspectives  

     Bill Turner, Communications 2025 Fundamentals of Communication

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 24 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.