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Last month the nonprofit advocacy group Achieving the Dream announced a new initiative to fund 38 community colleges who are willing to build entire programs with open educational resources. While this is a noble effort aimed at reducing financial barriers for students to get two-year degrees, the group perpetuated the same myth that has plagued higher education for years.
The annual costs of textbooks are about $1,300 per year for a full-time community college student and amount to about a third of the cost of an Associate’s degree.
In the Washington Post’s coverage, they add this description.
A community college reform group has selected a handful of schools in Virginia and Maryland to develop degree programs using open-source materials in place of textbooks, an initiative that could save students as much as $1,300 a year.
Are they right? Do community college textbooks cost “about $1,300 per year,” and is there a chance to help them save this amount? The short answer is no. Community college students actually spend just over half this amount — approximately $700 per year — despite the rising list prices of textbooks.
And for those who think that this is just a press release, no big deal, consider the cascading effect as media outlets take this number and run with it. The Google search for “college textbooks $1,300” generates one relevant result for the year prior to this press release and more than 100 results in the six weeks since, including prominent coverage in The Chronicle, the Washington Post, Forbes, Campus Technology, , Inside Higher Ed, PC Magazine, NBC News, and dozens of local stories at individual colleges or community news coverage. Note that the majority use the language of students spending $1,300 or colleges saving students $1,300. This will be relevant later in this post.
A closer look at data sources can explain the discrepancy in the myth of $1,300 and the reality of just over $700.
Achieving the Dream, like many other organizations that should know better, take their college textbook data from the College Board which doesn’t actually measure student spending for this category, just financial aid estimates based on old data and inflation adjustments.
This annual data source from the College Board estimates average undergraduate budgets for tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses. The most recent books and supplies data ranges from $1,249 to $1,364, leading to the often-quoted $1,300 number.
But look at the note right below the chart:
Other expense categories are the average amounts allotted in determining the total cost of attendance and do not necessarily reflect actual student expenditures.
In other words, books and supplies estimates are not part of their actual survey data. The College Board is working to help people estimate the total cost of attendance; they are not providing actual source data on textbook costs, nor do they even claim to do so. Reporters and advocates just fail to read the footnotes or choose not to do so.
Both the College Board and National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS, official data for the National Center for Education Statistics, or NCES) currently use cost of attendance data created by financial aid offices of each institution, using the category “Books and Supplies”. There is no precise guidance from Education Department on the definition of this category, and financial aid offices use very idiosyncratic methods for this budget estimate. Some schools like to maximize the amount of financial aid available to students, so there is motivation to keep this category artificially high.
It turns out that in 2008 NCES actually used a student survey – asking them what they spent rather than asking financial aid offices for net price budget calculation. Yet NCES in its data book (page 130) fully acknowledges that the current books and supplies variable “variable is not comparable to the student-reported cost of books and supplies”.
As an example of how this data is calculated, see this guidance letter from the state of California [emphasis added].
The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) has adopted student expense budgets, Attachment A, for use by the Commission for 2015-16 Cal Grant programs. The budget allowances are based on statewide averages from the 2006-07 Student Expenses and Resources Survey (SEARS) data and adjusted to 2015-16 with the forecasted changes in the California Consumer Price Index (CPI) produced by the Department of Finance.
In both cases (NPSAS guidance and California guidance), the last actual source of student data was almost a decade ago, updated each year with inflation adjustments. But student behaviors have changed dramatically in this time frame. They now have rental options, additional sources such as Amazon and Chegg, downloads both legal and illegal, and more recently students have become more price sensitive and increasingly willing to just not acquire the required course materials.
The College Board does, however, point people to one source that they use as a rough basis for their budgets.
According to the National Association of College Stores, the average price of a new textbook increased from $57 in 2007 to $65 in 2010 and to $79 in 2013. The gap between new and used book prices has increased over time, with the latter rising from $49 to $59 over these years. (http://www.nacs.org/research/industrystatistics/higheredfactsfigures.aspx)
There is no dispute that text list prices have continued to rise. The primary source of public data for this question is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which shows that textbook prices has consistently risen approximately three times the rate of inflation.
But the more relevant question is what students actually spend on textbooks, or required course materials. Especially if you are making policy decisions intended to help students overcome affordability barriers. The best primary public source for how much students spend on textbooks comes from the National Association of College Stores, although there are other studies from Student Monitor that provide similar results. There are far more options today for getting textbooks than there used to be, and one choice – choosing not to acquire the course materials – is rapidly growing. According to Student Monitor, approximately 30 percent of students each year choose to not acquire every required college textbook.
The Student Watch: Attitudes & Behaviors toward Course Materials, 2015-2016 Report is based on survey results from nearly 42,000 students at 56 institutions. NACS sends their survey through approximately 20 – 25 member institutions to distribute to the full student population for that institution or a representative sample. This survey is meant to inform college bookstores, but the data set is much broader, asking students to report expenditures from all sources.
Their data shows that “for the 2015-2016 year, two-year students spent approximately $716 on their course materials, compared to the $543 spent by four-year students” and that student spending in this category has consistently dropped since 2007. These results give a far different picture than those stories derived from College Board data.
None of this paints a flattering picture of the textbook publishing market, particularly as students who can least afford to end up paying more (those at two-year colleges, first-generation students). In addition, many students are forced into the choice of not acquiring a textbook that is actually needed for their class, thus sacrificing academic success in the name of personal economics. As described in the Chronicle post:
One problem, called out by Mike Caulfield on his blog, is that the students least likely to benefit from the new online and rental options are first-year, first-generation students. [snip]
Officials at NACS were kind enough to provide cross-tabs on two of their questions against sector and first-generation status. For Fall 2014, students were asked how much they spent on required course materials. First-generation students spend 10 percent more, acquire 6-percent-fewer textbooks, and end up paying 17 percent more per textbook than do non-first-generation students. This data could be used as a starting point for policy to solve this problem.
A second problem is noted by Tanya Joosten in a recent online discussion: “When low-income students look at the anticipated costs of attendance, it dissuades them from even applying or actually registering.”
A third problem is called out in a Florida report from 2012, which delves further into this issue of impacts of college costs on various groups. David Wiley, the co-founder and chief academic officer at Lumen Learning, provided an excellent analysis of these findings:
“Textbook costs cause students to occasionally or frequently take fewer courses (35 percent of students), to drop or withdraw from courses (24 percent), and to earn either poor or failing grades (26 percent). Regardless of whether you have historically preferred the College Board number or the student survey number, a third fact that is beyond dispute is that surveys of students indicate that the cost of textbooks negatively impacts their learning (or at least their grades) and negatively impacts their time to graduation (drops, withdraws, and credits).”
While I am entirely sympathetic to the need and desire to lower textbook and course material prices for students, no one is served well by misleading information. College administrators, faculty committees, and students have real decisions to make on controlling college costs, and we should eliminate scary numbers that just don’t reflect reality. Consider the unrealistic goal set by Achieving the Dream’s President and CEO in a Huffington Post column:
Developing degrees without textbook costs will help full-time community college students save approximately $1,300 each year, which amounts to about one third of the cost of an Associate’s degree.
You cannot claim to help students save $1,300 when they don’t actually spend that much today. One risk is that these lofty goals will never be met, at least for schools that ask their students for savings data, thus jeopardizing the program long-term or dissuading other schools from following suit. Another risk is that schools might declare victory using faulty data while their students become frustrated by not seeing these results or by changing their personal budgets based on unrealistic assumptions. As I stated in the Chronicle:
Let’s have a more student-focused discussion of what textbook costs mean — and who benefits from various attempts to lower the cost of course materials. As we do so, I think we’ll find that student-success metrics related to whether students can get timely access to required course materials will be more meaningful than focusing on the price listed at the bookstore.
(For those wanting to jump into the weeds on different data sources, see these two posts. For those wanting to understand the higher spending by different student groups, see this post at The Chronicle or this post.)
- Note: The AY2016 total data metric in report of $602 includes a new adjustment made by NACS to better match overall demographics. I have used the $559 for the chart to better show data trends. Also note that this survey used to come out every two years but now comes out annually.
- Disclosure: Lumen Learning is a client of MindWires.
The post Reprise: How Much Do Community College Students Actually Pay For Textbooks? appeared first on e-Literate.
On several occasions I have also invited my students to join me on stage to present their views. Recently I said goodbye to another year group of my primary education students who will be teaching in their own classrooms come September. They were a particularly talented and insightful group of young people, and I learnt a great deal through teaching them for three years as they developed their teaching skills. Before they left the university for the last time, I persuaded three - Kate, Becca and Ryan - to speak out one more time about their views on technology supported learning. Building on a previous post about narrative education, I asked them to focus specifically on the question of how they use technology for story telling. Here's the short video of the interviews - there are some great ideas for all teachers here:
Photo from Flickr
Storytelling with technology now by Steve Wheeler was written in Auckland, New Zealand and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
During my summer break I have several times had thoughts on a prior European project “Learning about politics” in which I worked as the ITB partner in 2010 and 2011. The project as such was not one of the most successful ones in which I have been working. Yet – looking back at some of the activities carried out in the project and at the themes covered in the German contributions – I must say that I learned a lot during that time. And when comparing the hot issues of that time and those of the present date – there is a lot to be learned about the evolution of politics in the light of these issues. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of blogs to revisit the project experience and some of the key themes – now, five years after the end of the project. In this first post I will deal with the project as a whole and some of its key activities.
The project idea, the partnership and the evolution of the project
The project was initiated in Estonia on the basis of a ‘seed corn story’ on a young schoolboy who wants to change the world and starts a political campaign to run for the next elections. All this started in family talks and the boy and his followers started to get information and draft their program for the elections. The trans-national partnership was supposed to build upon the core story and continue it as national variants adjusted to their contexts.
As the project was launched under the transversal programme of the EU-funded Lifelong Learning Programme, the partners represented different educational sectors and had respectively different ideas, how to work further. Thus, the Estonian, Slovenian and Italian partners (who represented lower secondary schools) chose to work with this script. As a contrast, the Greek, German and Welsh partners (who represented other educational sectors) worked their own ways forward independently of the initial core story. This was reflected in the development of the trans-national website that gave each partner its own WordPress platform for developing its own contents. Below I will first give an overview on the work of the German team and then give insights into the Politics Spring School event.
The German sub-project took shape as a theme-based online learning environment
In the beginning phase we had had some difficulties in getting the project moving. After some time I cam in as a replacement of the initial partner. After exploring some other options, I ended up working with three vocational school teachers who had ‘politics’ as their second subject (in addition to their vocational subjects). We discussed several themes that might be interesting and outlined a set of thematic ‘learning pathways’ (Lernwege) to be covered with introductory blog posts and separate ‘learning units’ with more specific information, links to additional materials and workspaces for learning tasks.
When developing this online learning environment, some additional themes came up. So, at the end of the project we had developed the following ‘learning pathways’:
Pathway One: The regional parliament elections in Germany in 2011
Pathway Two: Protest movements and citizens’ participation in Germany (Anti-nuclear protests and protests against Stuttgart 2010 railway station project)
Pathway Three: Protest movements and revolutions in Arab countries
Pathway Four: The new role of internet and social media in policy
Pathway Five: Debates on the integration of migrants and on multicultural society in Germany
Pathway Six: The issue of climate change and citizens’ responsibility
Pathway Seven: Young people’s participation in politics.
(I will get back to these themes in my next blogs.)
The Politics Spring School 2011 as a joint training and learning event
During the project the partners tended to work somewhat separately with their own contents and learning stories (except for the Estonian and Slovenian partners who had a closer collaboration). Therefore, the Politics Spring School (initiated and hosted by the Greek partners) was an important complementary training and learning event. The Politics Spring School was designed as a combination of a Grundtvig course for individual adult learners and of a Comenius course for teacher’s further education. In practice, the two first day were run as a joint multimedia training and then during three following days the groups were separated. The adult learners worked individually with their stories, whilst the teacher group worked in transnational teams that created their own stories. To me it was a positive experience to see that I could combine the theme ‘integration of migrants’ with the interests of two other participants (outside the project context). I a similar way the two German vocational school teachers could link their themes (junior voting and climate change) into their group stories.
– – –
I think this is enough of the project as such. I do not think that we would have been very successful if we would have followed strictly the original original plan. Some partners found it appropriate for them – for the others it was better to follow alternative options. Yet, as the Politics Spring School showed it, there was enough common content and interest to get the international partners learn and work together. Based on our teamwork in Bremen and in the Spring School the German vocational school teachers have continued their cooperation and shared experiences on their teaching in politics. I think this is already a good result. Moreover, the work with the German platform and the respective ‘pathways’ and ‘learning units’ provided me a pre-school for the kind of multimedia competences that I have needed in our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers project. Finally, the work with the themes to be covered has clearly been a valuable learning experience in German and international politics. (I will get back to this in my next blogs.)
More blogs to come …
In this presentation I outline the characteristics of innovation and consider them in the light of educational technology. I survey some major innovations and question them from the perspective of idea, benefit and execution. Then I look at the changing nature of benefits in education and take learning beyond innovation and into transformation., Bangkok, Thailand (Keynote) Jul 27, 2016 [Comment]
Institucionalidad concertada. La escuela es una institución en sentido fuerte, basada en una obligación y un derecho, pero de ahí no se infieren la titularidad ni la gestión públicas. Un tercio del alumnado en la escuela privada o concertada (el más rico, educado y urbano) es un legado histórico que ninguna mayoría parlamentaria a la vista puede ni debe intentar alterar, salvo un consenso o una muy amplia mayoría hoy impensables. Lo que sí cabe es sujetar la escuela privada a reglas comunes sobre reclutamiento, atención a la diversidad, etc. que hagan del sistema escolar un conjunto homogéneo y equitativo, a la vez que arbitrar los medios para ello. La escuela privada tiene un pasado no siempre edificante, pero ya no estamos en la posguerra; la escuela pública, a su vez, no siempre ha estado a la altura de lo que prometía. Es más razonable avanzar hacia un servicio público unificado a partir de los mimbres existentes que obcecarse en fórmulas de nula viabilidad y dudosos efectos mientras el conjunto sigue dualizándose como hasta hoy. Por otra parte, hay que dotar de fuerza real a la participación de la familia y la comunidad, hoy sometidas al dominio de la profesión en la escuela pública y la propiedad en la privada.Laicidad ecuménica. No importa la titularidad o gestión de un centro, la institucionalización del alumno no debe incluir el adoctrinamiento, por lo que la religión ha de salir del currículum y el tiempo reglados y no ser una asignatura de ningún tipo, aunque suponga reinterpretar, ignorar o denunciar el Concordato. Pero esto es compatible con que, como institución y espacio también de custodia, la escuela otorgue tiempo y medios, al margen de los curriculares, a la formación religiosa para los hijos de las familias que lo deseen, y ello para todas las grandes religiones presentes, en condiciones equitativas y con sus propios recursos. En el mundo actual se ha vuelto obsoleta y contraproducente la idea de ignorar la religión en el espacio público y urge que las grandes confesiones presentes sean objeto de atención y de estudio, para una mejor convivencia multi- e intercultural y para que estén expuestas a la luz fuera de los propios grupos de fieles.Ciudadanía plurinacional. La plurinacionalidad alcanza no solo a los estados sino a los individuos, de modo que estos pueden ser portadores y sujetos de culturas, lenguas, legados, solidaridades, identidades y lealtades múltiples y superpuestas. Ello debe traducirse en la pluralidad de la institución, y esta en la coexistencia de contenidos y lenguas con un mismo estatus básico. La debilidad relativa de una lengua o una cultura puede justificar su refuerzo compensatorio desde la institución, pero no la expulsión de la otra. La inmersión lingüística excluyente no es un proyecto integrador ni plurinacional, sino asimilacionista y pluriestatal, en última instancia secesionista; del otro lado, reducir la lengua a una elección familiar es la negación del demos y del carácter institucional e instituyente de la educación, de su papel al servicio de la sociedad. Las lenguas común y propia deben ser vehiculares en todas y cada uno de los centros escolares de las comunidades con lengua propia, así como, cuando la escala lo haga posible, en enclaves de población de una comunidad fuera de su territorio.Comprehensividad voluntaria. El tronco común hasta los 16 ha mostrado a escala española e internacional ser más equitativo y eficaz que la diferenciación temprana. Sin embargo, la LOGSE creo un callejón sin salida para los no graduados en la ESO, sin continuidad en el sistema, que llegaron a sobrepasar el 25%, y la pretensión de que los alumnos de la principal minoría, los gitanos, completaran la trayectoria común fue un brindis al sol de efectos perversos, su abandono masivo sin cualificación alguna. Cierta diversificación llegó como secuela del frustrado pacto de 2010, y la LOMCE ha ido más lejos con la implantación de la FPB y las reválidas, de consecuencias todavía desconocidas pero que dan al profesorado o a las pruebas externas la posibilidad de una segregación masiva. Una alternativa sería mantener como oferta única y por defecto el tronco común hasta el término de la ESO, pero dar a padres y alumnos, y solo a ellos, la posibilidad de optar por una orientación anticipada, hacia algún tipo de capacitación profesional, evitando cualquier presión del centro. A ello debería añadirse asegurar a todos, con cualquier trayectoria, vías alternativas para ampliar su cualificación hasta un título post-obligatorio.Crecimiento sostenible. La Gran Recesión ha mordido en el gasto educativo como en pocos otros capítulos, cuando debió ser al revés, el momento de prepararse para una nueva etapa de crecimiento y de competencia global más intensa. En el acceso a la economía del conocimiento, cuando la cualificación gana peso diferenciador para individuos y países, el gasto educativo merece un suelo inamovible y un techo al alza que cabría confiar a una norma pactada y un fondo de reserva, como rigen para las pensiones. Habría de alcanzar para asegurar la gratuidad real (incluidos materiales escolares) hasta los 18, políticas compensatorias para los grupos más vulnerables, el paso masivo al entorno digital y un acceso no discriminatorio a la educación superior. Sin embargo, no cabe dedicar recursos sin fin a más de lo mismo, ni enquistarse en tópicos como la reducción de ratios, y es hora de que la tecnología se emplee en aumentar la eficiencia del único sector de la economía en que no lo ha hecho.Autonomía responsable. Coexisten en España una fuerte descentralización entre el Estado y las CCAA y una fuerte centralización dentro de todas y cada una de estas últimas, derivada de una visión instrumentalista y clientelar de la relación con las familias y el profesorado. Una escuela equitativa y de calidad, sin embargo, requiere proyectos educativos de centro, ajustados a las necesidades de su alumnado y su medio y las capacidades de su plantilla profesional y la comunidad a la que sirve, lo que exige profundizar en su autonomía organizativa y pedagógica. La contrapartida a esto debe ser la transparencia total de los centros y la evaluación diagnóstica del sistema a todos los niveles. Revalorización profesional. El valor social, sea real o simbólico, de una profesión resulta de una formación sólida, una selección estricta, un compromiso asegurado y una labor eficaz. Todo esto se ha deteriorado a lo largo de decenios con el descenso de la exigencia académica en la formación inicial, la burocratización del acceso, la opacidad del trabajo profesional y la falta de reconocimiento e incentivos. Hay que reforzar y reformar en profundidad la formación académica inicial, tanto la general del magisterio como la docente del profesorado de secundaria, y vincular a la práctica una segunda fase formativa (el llamado MIR docente o similar), espacios y tiempos de colaboración (aulas compartidas, horarios más amplios de permanencia en el centro) y estabilidad y promoción profesionales (accesibles y previsibles para todos, pero no automáticas). Solo sí podrían mejorarse las condiciones laborales y salariales, un pacto más por más entre la profesión y la sociedad.