The high price of textbooks can be troublesome for college students, but some classes at Central Oregon Community College have begun using free or inexpensive online resources to ease the burden on student wallets.

The practice saved COCC students an estimated $964,360 in the 2017-18 school year, according to Open Oregon Educational Resources, an organization that helps community colleges and four-year universities adopt affordable or free online textbooks. The group said 773 courses that year used the online resources.

“It’s a big deal,” said Tina Hovekamp, COCC’s director of library services, who is helping the college implement open educational resources. “You’re talking about significant savings, and as tuition and fees keep increasing, one thing colleges can do to help with affordability is encourage adoption of (open educational resources) or other low-cost solutions to help students with these kinds of expenses.”

This school year, the average student at a public, two-year commuter college spent an average of $1,440 on books and supplies, according to The College Board. The United States Public Interest Research Group states that textbook prices have skyrocketed over the past decade, rising more than four times the rate of inflation.

According to Hovekamp, an instructor at COCC can decide to adopt the free or inexpensive materials instead of a traditional textbook by providing links to various educational websites or online resources. At the Open Oregon Educational Resource website, there’s a large list of links to downloads where students can read texts on writing, biology, calculus and more. Although the materials are free, Hovekamp said the quality of these online resources is reaching the same level as that of traditional textbooks, and that even regular textbooks can vary in rigor.

“I think throughout the years, the quality of these materials has increased tremendously, and the use that these materials are getting has increased pressure to improve them,” she said.

Hovekamp also said that on the website where professors can find these texts, each set of materials has reviews from fellow professors, so faculty will know in advance if the resources are legitimate. And she confirmed that none of these are Wikipedia links.

Julie Downing, an instructional dean at COCC who oversees the college’s health and science programs, said the quality of learning found in the open educational resources is “very, very good.”

“I would imagine, in the very beginning when (use of open educational resources) was in its infancy, some of them didn’t have the rigor that a regular textbook would, but now they’re really beginning to be high-quality,” she said. “And they’re just getting refined or improved all the time.”

Downing said one reason why the online textbooks work well is because professors can ask for state grants, usually in small amounts like $100, to modify these materials to suit their specific courses. COCC instructors teaching Chinese, chemistry and math have all applied for those grants this year, she said. One faculty member, ­Annemarie Hamlin, has even developed and published her own versions for writing courses, Downing said.

When exploring the course list before a semester begins, COCC students can also see if a course has low-cost or no-cost materials, which can become a factor in which classes students choose, Hovekamp said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854,