This new report sets out 6 key principles to adopt in higher education |

As concerns about affordability grow, colleges can tap into MHEC’s resources to better explore course costs and benefits.

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A college or university that switches to open educational resources (OER) can save students an average of about $116 per course. Imagine the exponential savings when that number is multiplied by dozens of classes in thousands of establishments.

Choosing OER over textbooks or other alternatives is not cheap for universities due to upfront implementation costs. But students — the drivers of enrollment — want course options that are more affordable, flexible, and credit-fast. The problem for institutions trying to fully embrace them is how valuable they are, how implementable they are, and what return on investment they offer.

A new report from the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) in partnership with the National Consortium for Open Educational Resources (NCOER) offers powerful guidance and six key principles that colleges can use as a basis for determining how and when REL must be scaled to meet demand. They may have no choice in the future, as half of US states require schools to show their impacts, and the Department of Education has also invested $15 million in this effort.

“As their investment indicates, states believe in the value of OER in reducing the cost of higher education for students,” said Jenny Parks, MHEC’s vice president of policy and research and lead author of the report. “It’s only fitting that they have a transparent way of analyzing costs and benefits to guide further OER support.”

The 42-page document not only explains the value of OER, but offers institutions the opportunity to compare it to alternatives, such as printed materials or inclusive access. The working group that compiled the data and helped prepare the cost analysis section is a who’s who of leaders with higher education ties from 11 states and Washington, D.C. – including representatives from SPARC, OpenStax, the University System of Maryland, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Massachusetts Department of Education. The national consortium includes the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

“It’s rare for a group with so many different perspectives to come together and agree on a set of principles for such a complex topic that applies differently to different stakeholders,” said Eddie Watson, associate vice president for curricular and pedagogical innovation at AACU. “This report brings together multiple perspectives to bring more clarity and consistency to conversations about student cost savings and the various other benefits of OER.”

These six principles provide a framework for implementing OER and include guidance on the soundness of each institution‘s investments, as well as considerations of equity, cost, potential savings, learning outcomes and other advantages. While the authors acknowledge that each institution’s situation is unique and state that their Create clarity to foster greater consistency in understanding the benefits and costs of OER document is not completely comprehensive, they say “the impact of this work is national in scope and will benefit elected officials and other decision makers across the country”.


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The authors say that colleges and universities that dive into it should focus on presenting value beyond cost savings for students, families and policy makers. It is also essential that those collecting data on the impacts of OER are transparent. With respect to the cost savings analysis, the report includes a framework on how to calculate specific results. A great resource offered to members of the Open Education Network is its Community Hub, which can help them manage their data and present it to different stakeholders.

Student Watch and OnCampus Research reported that students are now spending approximately 28% less in 2021 on course materials than in 2016. Highlighting the popularity of OER, 30% of students reported downloading free course materials l ‘last year. Yet 78% bought textbooks or had other expenses, and the rising costs of printed materials – up 30% over the past decade – continue to be a source of contempt for students. Students actually spent slightly more in 2020-21 than in 2019-20 due to the increased cost of books.

Spending on books and materials has topped $1,200 a year for full-time students, with some texts costing more than $400, according to the Education Data Initiative. This number is about $200 higher for those attending two-year colleges. The EDI says two-thirds of students don’t even buy hardware because of the cost. Adoption of course materials, they say, was largely chosen by faculty members, not colleges or academic committees.

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