By Allen Kuo

As a student leader in the community college system, I see many of the unique barriers that people from various backgrounds face as they seek to obtain their education. The most universal, however, seems to be the cost of education. While there are programs like Promise, which help waive tuition costs for students, they still face the burden of textbook costs.

Throughout my time as the Associated Student Government president, I’ve heard many stories of students struggling to afford the materials for their classes, particularly textbooks and homework access codes. While some of them are able to cover the costs with a couple extra shifts, others have to choose between dropping classes or skipping meals to buy the materials for their classes. Hearing my peers’ struggles led me to thinking: What change can I make as a student leader to help them?

As a textbook affordability fellow for the Michelson 20MM Foundation, I’ve become committed to pursuing advocacy for better open educational resources (OER) infrastructure within the California Community Colleges (CCC) system. With a $115M commitment to Zero-Textbook-Cost degree programs (ZTC) signed by Governor Newsom, the state is showing commitment to leveraging OER within the CCC system. While it is to students’  advantage that the state sees textbook affordability as an issue in higher education, colleges lack the infrastructure needed to utilize the money they are receiving. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the majority of student bodies and faculty members aren’t aware of OER and ZTC in general, nor are they aware of  the funding that is being given to their campuses. As a result, those with the best knowledge of how to address the needs of students–students themselves and faculty members– aren’t even able to use this monumental resource for themselves

To help seize this opportunity, I have chosen to host OER leadership summits for community colleges in my region in order to increase student leaders’ awareness of OER and the ZTC program funding. By increasing awareness of this issue to more students, it allows  students to advocate for both the colleges and their professors to use OER in the classroom. The momentum gathered can help push for a CCC systemwide resolution that can be adopted by the Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC), which would  be voted on at the spring 2024 general assembly with the ask for all CCCs to have OER coordinators track the allocation of ZTC program state funding and OER usage/metrics at each campus.

The goal is to create awareness around OER, empowering students with the knowledge to create change, while simultaneously pushing for implementation of infrastructure to support the movement of textbook affordability—thus, instating more permanent solutions within the CCCs. It is my hope that with this project and initiative I will be able to inspire more students to speak up for issues they believe in—whether it be about textbook affordability or another type of injustice within the higher education system, student voices on education matters.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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