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Six Reasons to Embrace Open Education

1. Soaring textbook prices are a barrier to success

Textbook costs continue to rise and can be a barrier to student success. From January 2000 to June 2022, the cost of textbooks increased 162 percent, while the average overall inflation rate rose 74.4 percent (Perry, 2022). The average college textbook costs an estimated $105.37 (Hanson, 2023), with some texts, particularly in STEM fields, costing as much as $400. Meanwhile, the average federal student loan debt rose 5.9% between 2020 and 2023, from $36,520 to $37,338 (Hanson, 2023). In a time of increasing education costs and student debt, the cost of textbooks continues to be a significant burden on students and contributes substantially to the overall increase in educational expenses.

(Image from Making the Case for Open Educational Resources, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.)

2. High textbook costs result in problematic student behavior

Research highlights a worrisome cycle: high course material costs lead to adverse student behaviors, impacting academic progress, opportunities, and success. A 2022 survey of more than 13,000 students from Florida’s public colleges and universities, found that more than half (53.5%) of all respondents reported they did not purchase a required textbook due to its cost (FLVC Survey, 2022). The 2021 Virginia Course Materials Survey, conducted by VIVA, found that “course material costs hurt students’ academic careers in the areas of progress (taking fewer courses), opportunity (not registering for specific courses), and success (earning poor grades and failing)” (VIVA, 2021). 

A 2023 small-scale survey of 778 South Carolina students across 19 institutions revealed similar, worrisome findings; 82% of respondents in SC reported that they had not purchased some or all materials required for a course, and 39% reported they had taken fewer courses in a semester due to textbook costs.  

3. OER contributes to student success

Beyond cost savings, a growing body of research points to the power of OER to improve student outcomes. In a large-scale study at the University of Georgia (N = 21,822) of student performance, the DFW rate (i.e., students who earn either a D or an F or withdrew from the course) was significantly lower in courses using OER when compared with the same courses taught by the same faculty in previous semesters (Colvard et al., 2018).

In another study, OER were found to predict improvements in pass rates for all student groups at Houston Community College (Smith et al., 2020).

Further, a meta-analysis by Clinton and Khan (2019) showed a 29% reduction in dropout rates for courses utilizing OER materials and subsequent research, such as Bol et al. (2022), showed that students using OER materials were retained and persisted at a statistically significant higher rate than those using publisher content (non-OER). 

(Image from Making the Case for Open Educational Resources, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.)

4. OER is flexible and customizable

Because they are openly licensed, instructors have the freedom to adapt course materials to align with specific course objectives. Content can be easily and continuously updated to reflect historical updates, scientific and technical advances, or perspectives in a discipline or technical field. For career and technical education courses, content can be customized to reflect current employer practices.

open = free + permissions

5. Student and faculty perceptions of OER are positive

Recent studies have found that nearly one third (29%) of higher education faculty in the United States require at least one OER in their course (Seaman & Seaman, 2023). With OER becoming increasingly common in college courses, numerous studies have shown that students have positive perceptions of OER. (e.g., Clinton, 2019; Davis & Mckee, 2022; Jhangiani et al., 2018; Jones & Nyland, 2020).

Studies have also shown that the use of OER increases a student’s likelihood of picking a course and that end-of-semester instructor ratings increase after faculty adopt OER (Nusbaum & Cuttler, 2020).

A 2023 survey of South Carolina students supports these findings as well, with 94% of  those who had used OER, reporting positive outcomes.

(Image from Making the Case for Open Educational Resources, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.)

6. Return on investment for students and institutions

Investing in the use of open and affordable course materials is a cost-effective way to address the rising cost of higher education. A 2023 study of OER grant programs in 163 institutions across 32 states and British Columbia found that every dollar invested in OER Grants can save students $10 - $20 (Xie, 2023).

Data from states such as Georgia and Louisiana, among others, further demonstrates the potential for student savings. Since FY 2014-2015, University System of Georgia (USG) sponsored programs through the Affordable Learning Georgia initiative have saved students more than $173 million (Affordable Learning Georgia, 2023). Since the Affordable Learning LOUISiana initiative began tracking cost savings in FY 2012-2013, students at member institutions have saved $42.9M (Affordable Learning LOUISiana, 2024).

Beyond student savings, research indicates a positive return on investment (ROI) for institutions that adopt OER as well, with students enrolled in OER courses accumulating more course credits than students who did not take any courses using OER (Griffiths et al., 2020).


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