The college estimates a student who completes the degree will have saved about $2,000 in textbook costs.

In what is seen as the next major innovation in cutting college costs, Virginia’s Tidewater Community College will offer a textbook-free degree program in the fall that could reduce the price of earning an associate degree by about a third.

TCC says its associate of science degree in business administration will be the first in the nation by an accredited institution to entirely use open-source educational materials.

“I think we have a responsibility as a college to do what we can to help control the costs of textbooks, because we know there are students who can’t afford them,” said Daniel T. DeMarte, TCC vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer. “We know there are students who are not successful because they can’t afford them.”

The two-year pilot program is being developed through a partnership with Lumen Learning, an Oregon company that helps schools integrate open educational resources, known as OERs, into curricula.

David Wiley, one of Lumen’s founders, spoke last August at the Virginia Community College System retreat.

During a panel discussion, Wiley said it would be possible to offer an entire OER degree program but that “no one had done it yet,” DeMarte recalled. Afterward, “I asked him if he’d be willing to work with Tidewater to make that happen.”

The college estimates a student who completes the degree will have saved about $2,000, although actual savings will be calculated when the pilot program is evaluated.

The business program ranks second in demand among the college’s offerings, with more than 350 students earning the degree annually.

For the 2013-14 academic year, the college will offer one OER section for each of 21 courses.

Students taking the OER courses will receive additional advising to make sure they understand the concept, said Kimberly Bovee, associate vice president for strategic learning initiatives.

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