The community and technical college system is looking for ways to save students money, and it's paying off.

Since switching to open educational resources (OERs) in more classes last year, students across the Louisiana Community and Technical College System saved $2.7 million.

That's millions of dollars students would have paid for textbooks and materials in fall 2017 and spring 2018, system President Monty Sullivan said.

When it comes to the cost of college and attendance, which encompasses more than just tuition, "we're very much mindful of our price point," Sullivan said.

"Our colleges are the open access institutions for Louisiana," he said. "If our price point prohibits students from enrolling then we are not meeting that mission."

Students have more textbook options

And institutions depend largely on the state legislature when it comes to funding. This was an outside cost where the system had more flexibility and autonomy to make a change.

Working with LOUIS (The Louisiana Library Network), faculty have implemented open educational resources like e-books in more courses.

David Shankle, dean of business and applied technology and instructor at Sowela Technical Community College, is a recent convert to OERs.

He switched from textbooks last summer and this fall in his macro and microeconomics courses.

A new textbook for those classes would cost about $250, or students could rent them for about $90.

"So now it's free," he said. "Students love it."

That cost difference could make the difference between passing and failing, completing a course and dropping out.

"If you didn't get the book you didn't pass the class," Shankle said. "I've had times when students couldn't complete the class because they couldn't afford the book. Before they would just drop out."

This summer he had 20 out of 22 finish his class. He called that a much higher success rate than usual.

"Our students tend to be hardworking, have a job or two, so the financial aspect is a motivator," fellow LCTCS instructor Stacey Guidry said. "... We're sensitive to the financial concerns of students."

Guidry teaches psychology at Fletcher Technical Community College and has been using open resources a few years now. She picks another course each year to convert to OER.

"I'll never go back to textbooks," she said. "I'm OER all the way."

Why are students making switch?

Cost is an obvious reason behind the switch. An open resource is free, while psychology textbooks usually range from $75 to $200 each, Guidry said.

But cost is not the only reason to change

It's easier to update from year to year this way, Guidry said. She can switch out certain sections as research changes.

"It saves time for me and them," she said.

Now that she's getting the hang of it, and with the help of expert staff, she thinks it's more convenient for her and her students.

And these instructors aren't hearing complaints.

Guidry receives evaluations after courses and said reviews regarding the OER system have been really good. Students say they like having an electronic option and not lugging around books.

"There was not as much push back as I was concerned about," she said.

Students who prefer to hold paper in hand can download a pdf file and print it out. They also can pay a fee to have it bound like a book.

"I've not heard a single complaint about not having a textbook," Shankle added.

It's still challenging to find good resources for more technical or specific courses like culinary and drafting, Shankle said, but he expects more to come with time. The ocean of resources is constantly growing and updating.

"It's a big shift (in teaching) and will only continue as resources for more classes become available," Shankle said. "It's going to make teaching a little more efficient. Students can get it immediately. Now there's no waiting. You get the resource the second you click on the link."