Open educational resources (OER) not only save students money, they produce significant benefits in instruction and student learning experiences, according to a new study from Achieving the Dream (ATD).
As a result, OER could lead to higher persistence and completion rates for community college students, the study adds.
Students who use OER instead of traditional textbooks say they are “accessible, relevant and engaging,” according to ATD, which through its OER initiative examined 32 community colleges, including consortia of colleges in four states. The goal of the initiative is to help participating colleges reduce the financial burden on students and improve curricula and pedagogy by developing course pathways using free and openly licensed instructional materials.
According to the study, more than 60 percent of students reported that the overall quality of their learning experience in an OER course was higher than in a typical non-OER course.
Though creating OER courses and degrees is time consuming, instructors in several of the 32 colleges in the study said they made changes as a result of working with OER materials and aligned the materials with their learning goals.
Several instructors reported that students were more engaged with OER materials compared to textbooks, because they are better tailored to good pedagogy, reading materials are more relevant and interesting, and students can be more actively involved in the learning experience.
Students saved between $66 and $121 per course, which translates to net savings of $6.5 million, at a minimum, to students in just two years among the colleges in the study, ATD reports.
Low-income students are using the money they save to cover college tuition; personal expenses, such as rent and child care; and other learning materials and courses that can help them stay in school.
About half of Pell Grant recipients (48 percent) and more than half of underrepresented minorities (52 percent) said OER courses will have a significant impact on their ability to afford college, compared to 41 percent for other students.
“The study indicates that, based on two years of implementation across scores of colleges, OER can be an important tool in helping more students – and particularly low-income and underrepresented students – afford college, engage actively in their learning, persist in their studies, and ultimately complete,” says ATD President Karen Stout.
“Data show that even using the most conservative estimates, cost savings are significant and that OER content plays a role in helping strengthen instruction and learning across not just a few courses but entire degree pathways,” Stout says.
A cost to colleges
On average, the direct cost for implementing OER degrees is roughly $500,000 per institution over two years, ATD found.
Colleges are working to make these degree pathways sustainable through such strategies as implementing small user fees for students, reallocating resources, using existing faculty development centers to support faculty in teaching with OER, and adjusting faculty reviews and rewards to encourage them to develop new courses.
A detailed analysis of expenses at five colleges found it costs an average of $11,700 in salary and benefits to develop an OER course.