Hill College minimizes student costs through faculty study grants

  Jessyca Brown
  Monday, September 13, 2021 1:38 PM
  Enrollment Management, Academics

Hillsboro, TX

Hill College is working to make courses more affordable and accessible for students through a variety of avenues this year, including its annual Faculty Study Grant Program.

The program awards up to $2,500 to selected faculty members each summer to pursue professional development opportunities aimed at enhancing course curriculum and enriching learning for students. The grants fund the technology and resources faculty need to conduct research and develop course materials and activities.

During the pandemic, the program was modified to require development of online courses using Open Educational Resources (OER), which are openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets used for teaching, learning, assessing, and research. This change challenged grant recipients to create high-quality, low-cost courses based on Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board requirements.

“In an era of online competition and changing delivery methods of textbooks and course materials, it can be difficult to choose materials while being conscientious about the cost to students,” said Hill College Vice President of Instruction, Dr. Kerry Schindler. “Faculty are eager to provide low-cost options for students.”

And this year’s grant recipients are doing just that. Biology instructor Lori Heintz used her $2,500 grant to reduce costs for the Microbiology for Majors (BIOL 2421), a course that traditionally requires an expensive textbook and lab materials. Math instructor Michelle Spencer’s $1,500 award will provide dual credit and traditional college students with first-day access to free materials for the Elementary Statistical Methods (Math 1342) course. Both courses will be offered online this spring.

Affordable, engaging biology
The Microbiology for Majors course and associated labs is required for biology majors, including pre-med and pre-vet students. However, Heintz said the course typically gets low enrollment and is in hopes the revised version will make a difference through reduced costs for students.

“I thought I could use this grant opportunity to build a class that would still be robust but less expensive for the students,” she said. “I’m hoping to improve enrollment by making the materials more accessible financially. The textbook is now free, and the additional labs are free.”

Heintz said students can now complete the class for less than $100 for the lab manual and personal protective equipment, which usually costs over $300. The revised course also offers online labs, reducing the amount of time students must spend on campus.

In addition to using grant funds to create an OER textbook, Heintz also applied the funds to producing new virtual presentations, engaging online labs, online only assessments, and mini virtual field trips in which she shows students how specimens are collected and cultured.

“Using OER has made me create different assignments that can help students learn the material without all the bells and whistles of publisher provided (but expensive) material,” Heintz said. “I am now building tough formative assignments that will help students engage with the material at a deeper level. I always appreciate the opportunity to improve my materials, and I appreciate Dr. Boehm providing this opportunity each summer.”

Statistics for success
The Elementary Statistical Mathematics course is a necessity among dual credit high school students, who account for approximately one-third of Hill College’s student body. The original online course requires students to purchase an expensive textbook and access to its mandatory learning management system (LMS), which Spencer said makes the course unaffordable for many students in rural school districts.

“These districts lie within low socio-economic areas and, thus, due to low tax revenues, cannot provide the textbook and the required learning management system access for their students,” Spencer wrote in her grant proposal’s project summary.

Spencer said she was able to use the grant funds to research, collect and develop materials to replace the regular textbook, as well as create homework assignments students can access for free in Hill College’s LMS, Schoology. Using OER materials for the course also makes them accessible on the first day of class for students.

“Textbooks and the online homework system can be very expensive,” said Spencer. “Students do not always have the funds to pay for textbooks on the first day of class. Even students with financial aid do not always receive their aid before class begins.”

Now students will be able to take the revised online course by paying only the cost of tuition.

“The study grant program is a unique opportunity for our Hill College faculty to engage in professional development activities that make them more effective in the classroom because we know our faculty move the needle on student success measures,” said Schindler. “Having these opportunities at the community college level is truly special, and Hill College’s commitment to professional development is a testament to our leadership and Dr. Boehm’s commitment to investing in our people.”