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Affording College Beyond Tuition

YI supported state investment in higher education through Open Educational Resources (OER), which provide no-cost learning materials across the state, and the TEXAS Grant program, to assist in making higher education more affordable for Texas students. YI testified on the importance of textbook affordability and courses that use OER, and worked with legislative offices to increase support for state investment in need-based aid resulting in an additional investment of $250,000 in OER and $40 million in the TEXAS Grant. Our Texas young advocate Elizabeth Keiser, who attends Austin Community College, shared how her textbooks cost more than her classes and the impact it makes on her life. Check out more reflections from our young advocates on their work in the Texas legislative process.

Every teenager is faced with an exciting decision at the end of their high school careers: will they continue their education at a post-secondary institution and if so, where? 

But when I decided where I would continue my education, I could only worry about one thing: affordability. I ended up giving up my acceptances to multiple colleges and chose to attend Austin Community College (ACC) because I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. Now, I juggle two jobs with a full course load so I can afford my classes, out of district tuition costs, and other personal expenses to keep myself living.

My first semester of college was riddled with hidden costs I was just barely able to cover. For instance, my Pell Grant covered most of my tuition, but I was still at a loss because my hometown is outside of the ACC district. However, moving to live within the ACC district would be even more expensive. 

To save money, I opted to rent my textbooks instead of purchasing them. However, my rental company did not allow marks within my textbook, so I wasn’t able to study the content intimately. During the semester, my dog ate the cover of one of my textbooks and I had to purchase the difference due to its condition. These textbooks ended up costing me more than the classes I paid to take. 

Now, in my second semester of college, I purchased my textbooks from a 3rd party source so I could study in them and do better in my classes. The company received many bad reviews due to hidden subscription costs, making me anxious to try them, but I had no other options. I ended up buying them all in used, older editions to keep them within a reasonable price range. This has made it difficult to keep up in my class given the differences from the 3rd to the 7th editions of the text. My peers have told me other ways of saving money on textbooks, including illegal piracy and simply not taking the class needed for their major. Those options are not suitable for me. 

Most recently, I was surprised when one of my textbooks was provided to me in a digital format completely free for a required course. All 1st year ACC students take the effective learning class which does a great job helping students develop better study skills, soft skills, and financial literacy. With the cost of the textbook completely taken care of I had more time to concentrate on learning the material and I was really successful in the course. ACC plans to implement more of these open educational resources (OER) classes on their campuses. I look forward to taking them and I know my bank account does too. 

Regardless, I’ll continue to work hard to earn my degree even if it means working more and taking other classes to afford them because I’m determined to complete my education. Our legislators can help to make cost savings like these a reality for me and my peers by supporting the expansion of OER usage. During the last Texas legislative session, OER funding grew by $250,000 to support an OER Repository, where institutions could create courses that use the repository and would be free for students. This is a promising development and I hope we can many more investments like these for students like me. 

Elizabeth Keiser attends Austin Community College where she majors in Environmental Studies and hopes to pursue environmental policy when she completes her education.