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Faculty Resources

Affordability & Equity

The main argument in favor of choosing open educational resources in higher education is the potential for cost savings to students. In the 2021–2022 academic year, first year full-time students attending a 4-year, private, non-profit institution spent an average of $1226 dollars on textbooks (Digest of Education Statistics, 2022). Depending on a student's field of study, that cost could be considerably more or less.

According to a 2020 survey by the US PIRG Education Fund, 66% of students skipped purchasing course materials, including textbooks, access codes needed for assignments and exams, or a combination of both, due to cost. Additionally, 25% of the student surveyed reported that they needed to work additional hours to be able to afford the textbooks required for their courses, and 19% reported that they made decisions on what classes to take based on the cost of required course materials (Nagle & Vitez, 2020). 

Using OERs and other open access materials significantly reduces the cost of course materials for students, as they can be used online for free; many can be printed from their online platforms, and some—like OpenStax—offer students the option of purchasing a print copy at a lower cost than that of most textbooks. 

Adopting open educational resources in lieu of traditional textbooks removes the financial barrier that many students face and makes classes more equitable.

Nagle, C., & Vitez, K. (2020). Fixing the Broken Textbook Market. U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Student Success

Another argument in favor of open educational resources is their apparent role in student success. Removing barriers of affordability and accessibility by using open educational resources gives students the ability to focus on completing and succeeding in their courses without these added stressors.

In 2017, the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Georgia compared the success rates of students across eight different introductory-level courses; students in half of the sections were assigned OERs, while the other half were assigned traditional textbooks (Colvard, 2018). Over a period of thirteen semesters, the CTL found an increase in student success rates in the sections utilizing OER over those of the students in sections using traditional textbooks. These students finished classes with a higher average grade than their peers. Pell-eligible students and non-white students saw the highest increase in grades of a B+ or higher, and the highest decrease in grades in the B to DFW range.

In a study completed by faculty members of the Wisconsin Technical College System, researchers saw a similar increase in student success rates in courses using open educational resources provided through Open Resources for Nursing, or Open RN (Ernstmeyer, 2023). Across 16 colleges in the WTCS system, courses using Open RN texts had a 5% higher completion rate than compared to the benchmark for the course.

With the push for enhancing online educational opportunities in higher education, while also removing barriers—particularly in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic—, additional research is being completed on the role OER can play in providing a more equitable educational experience for students.

Colvard, N.B., Watson, C.E., & Park, H. (2018). The impact of open educational resources on various student success metricsInternational Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262–276.
Ernstmeyer, K.E., & Christman, E. I. (2023). Adopting open educational resources as an equity strategyNursing Education Perspectives, 44(5), 306–307.