The importance of affordable and open educational resources to student access

As part of Open Education Week, the University of Missouri System hosted leaders from 16 of Missouri’s public two- and four-year institutions to share insights on the benefits of more affordable course materials and discuss how the four UM System campuses rolled out the Affordable & Open Educational Resources initiative.

In his welcome at the Statewide Leadership Summit, Choi emphasized the importance of affordable cost materials to student access. “There is no competition when it comes to higher education,” Choi noted as he spoke to administrators, professors, educational technology and bookstore directors and librarians from every corner of Missouri.

Additional speakers included Nicole Finkbeiner, associate director with OpenStax and Katie Steen, policy manager from SPARC.

Finkbeiner outlined the history of more affordable textbook options, laying a groundwork for what institution leaders should consider as they plan to add OERs into their curriculum. She suggested, among other things, that school leaders incentivize using OERs with their faculty members and emphasize academic freedom as a key component of OER.

Steen offered context about the national political landscape when it comes to OER issues. She highlighted that some states, including Arkansas, are starting to see legislation supporting OER efforts. I In some cases, legislation requires institutions to note in course catalogs when a class is using OERs, which UM System campuses already plan to do.

During the summit, college leaders learned about specific challenges and triumphs that the UM System campuses experienced through the eyes of some of the main stakeholders: the University bookstore and campus librarians, who have been instrumental in ensuring the UM System’s success in its adoption of OER in June 2017.

Industry partnerships

Also, as part of Open Education Week, the UM System announced its partnership with McGraw-Hill Education to increase student access to affordable course materials, lowering the cost of their electronic textbooks by an additional 38 percent to meet the University’s definition of low cost, or $40 or less. 

McGraw-Hill will offer its entire higher education eBook catalog through the UM System’s AutoAccess program, which began with a single course section and 50 students. The program has since expanded to 300 courses, 700 sections and 40,000 students across the four campuses. To date, UM System students have saved approximately $9.7 million through AutoAccess.

It is estimated that nearly 1,200 faculty members are actively lowering the cost of their educational materials systemwide. This initiative, along with others, will provide faculty with greater flexibility in adopting these low-cost materials in their courses.

Faculty incentive
To encourage participation, the UM System provides incentive opportunities for faculty who incorporate no-cost or low-cost materials into their courses to make the University even more affordable for our students. The grants are available for several different activities, including: adoption and adaptation and/or creation of open and affordable materials; open textbook review; or mentorship to faculty colleagues new to OER.

By lowering the cost of education and increasing access to resources, we are helping our students be more successful during their time on our campuses, which is key.

For example, Eric Aldrich, professor of meteorology, shared the following:

“Using the AutoAccess eBook option for my Introductory Meteorology class for Fall, 2017, was a no-brainer. Not only did my students have options, but it ended up saving them hundreds of dollars. Plus, I noticed an increase in the number of passing grades with my AutoAccess option than I had in previous semesters due to more of my students having access to the resources.”

Student success

Additionally, the OER initiative is lowering the cost of attendance for our students, which will lower their debt at graduation while still providing them a high-quality education.

Jennifer Broyles, a junior studying business, shared the following:

“Because my professor made the choice to switch to lower cost or free textbooks, it saved me the burden of taking out another student loan this semester.”

This initiative truly makes a difference for students, and by sharing best practices with peers, starting with Missouri public higher education institutions, the UM System is leading the way on this initiative at the state and national level.

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Campus: System
Key words: Innovation, Technology, UM System,
County: Boone