Governor Jared Polis at OER Conference

There was a rallying cry at Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Colorado OER Conference on Friday, May 31, 2019, that every college in the state heard. Governor Jared Polis challenged all Colorado institutions to be at the forefront of successful implementation of Z-Degrees so that “students have an easier time affording their education and are able to graduate with less debt and be able to thrive with a good job that can support them and their family.” This sentiment echoed throughout the day as each speaker called out the importance of saving students money on textbooks.

What are Z-Degrees and why do they matter?

Textbooks are a growing expense for college students; average costs have risen over 900% since 1980. According to one study, 66.6% of college students do not purchase the required textbooks because they cannot afford them.
A Z-Degree is a complete degree pathway that can be completed without purchasing a textbook. Instead of textbooks, these courses use Open Educational Resources (OER). Textbooks are a growing expense for college students; average costs have risen over 900% since 1980. According to one study, 66.6% of college students do not purchase the required textbooks because they cannot afford them.

In fact, basic needs insecurity is wide-spread in 2-year and 4-year colleges. Throughout the day, conference goers learned that 45% of students self-reported that they were food insecure in the prior 30 days, 56% were housing insecure in the previous year, and 17% experienced homelessness in the previous year. “It’s that last dollar expense, it’s that last unexpected expense that breaks it for students,” says Nicole Finkbeiner, Director of Institutional Relations OpenStax at Rice University, in her keynote speech.

 

Congressman Joe Neguse supports OER through the Affordable College Textbook Act

During the Morning Charge, Congressman Joe Neguse also pledged his continued support of OER. Earlier this year, he introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act in an effort to expand the use of free, open access textbooks on college campuses. “I view this room, and all the folks who are gathered here today, as our team, as Colorado’s team!” he said, just before encouraging everyone listening to reach out to him and other policymakers with more ideas. “You would be surprised at how likely it is that your idea may very well end up in a piece of legislation.”

Nicole Allen

Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at Sparc

After reflecting on the day’s events, Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at Sparc, says, “The biggest moment for me was hearing a governor speak about Open Educational Resources as an issue expert… [Governor Polis] not only cares about this issue but understands it. Spencer Ellis, Director of Educational Innovation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, agrees “[today] I learned that we’ve got some great champions in state and federal government for this work… which is humbling and really exciting.”