Hancock College administrators promised Jan. 31 that the price of instructional materials will no longer be a financial barrier to student success, pledging to ease the burden imposed by the inaccessibility and rising cost of textbooks.

Speaking during a press conference at the campus library, college officials announced the purchase of $40,000 in textbooks — about 250 required textbooks for spring semester classes — for the Santa Maria and Lompoc Valley campus libraries. 

"If you're [taking] a class without the textbook, it's really difficult to be successful," said Hancock President Kevin Walthers. "College affordability is a huge issue nationwide [and something] we've been trying to address in many ways."

A survey conducted by the college's institutional effectiveness department indicates that 53 percent of students did not purchase a textbook required for their course because of the cost. Sixty-five percent of Hancock College students dropped or withdrew from a class due to textbook prices, and roughly 45 percent did not register for the course due to the associated textbook costs, according to the same survey.

The books, Walthers explained, were purchased with funds from the Hancock College Foundation's President's Circle, a group of community members and organizations whose financial donations support student programs and opportunities. They will be placed on reserve at campus libraries and will be available for students who did not purchase or rent a textbook.

"The collective goal is about increasing accessibility and ensuring that a college education is available to everybody," Robert Curry, the college's academic dean responsible for library oversight, said during the conference. "We want to remove barriers to student success [and] making every single textbook [for spring semester classes] available to our students will certainly remove one of them."

The textbook purchase, officials said, is part of a larger shift by the college to use of open educational resources — course materials that are available to students at no cost. As part of the shift, Walthers announced the launch of Zero Textbook Cost program, a three-year pilot that will allow students to complete an associate degree for transfer (ADT) in political science and liberal arts (either math and science or social and behavioral science) without purchasing a single textbook.

Register for more free articles
Stay logged in to skip the surveys

Supported by a $200,000 grant from the California Community College Chancellor's Office, Jessica Scarffe, the political science professor who agreed to direct the program, said more than 20 classes will adopt a Zero Textbook Cost format by fall 2018. The courses span a range of subjects and fulfill a variety of general education requirements.

"We know in our classrooms how many demands are placed on students' time," Scarffe said. "Every semester, I ask my students how many of them are working 20 hours or more a week — pretty much every hand in the room goes up."

Second-year political science student Janet Cruz-Reyes said the new Zero Textbook Cost program will provide much-needed financial relief. Spending between $200 and $500 per semester on textbooks, Cruz-Reyes, who also serves as president of Hancock's associated student body government, had to take a second job just to scrape by. 

"It's a huge relief," she said of the program. "When it comes to being a college student, you have to focus on your school but also need some time for yourself to relax or study. Instead of working two jobs, now I could maybe work one and have some time for myself."

Scarffe projects approximately 1,000 students will graduate through the Zero Textbook Cost program during its first three years. She estimates 40,000 zero-textbook courses will be completed during that time, with students saving between $4 million and $8 million.

"It's a lot — and somewhat ambitious — but we're optimistic of being able to do it," Scarffe said.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga



Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.