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Affordable Learning Upstate: Affordable and Open Educational Resources

Why Open Educational Resources?


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college textbook costs have risen more than 1000% since the 1970s, far outpacing the rate of inflation. The rise in costs was more than 87% over the decade 2006-2016 alone, a steeper increase than tuition and room and board! Textbook prices reached a peak in March 2018 and have been coming down in recent years, but still outpace the cost increases in tuition and fees in the period 2011-2021. Combined with declining state support for higher education, stagnant wages, inflation and other economic factors, even the relatively modest cost of course materials can become a burden for students. Consider these statistics from recent reports:

  • In Fall 2020, US PIRG reported that 65% of students had not purchased a required textbook and 21% of students had skipped purchasing an access code.
  • The 2021 Virginia Course Materials Survey reports that 42% of students were moderately or extremely worried about course materials costs.  38% of students reported taking fewer courses, 40% did not register for a course, 34% earned a poor grade, and 16% failed a course if course materials costs prevented them from purchasing or accessing course materials.
  • The Florida 2022 Textbook and Instructional Materials Survey reports that despite decreases in textbook costs 53% of students still did not purchase a required textbook and there were still significant impacts on not purchasing a textbook (32% reported earning a lower grade, 19% failing a course).

These numbers are reflected in our own survey of Upstate students, which shows that there are still a sizeable number of students who struggle to purchase or find another means to access required course materials.


Most OER are digital natives, and while many are available in print versions, linking the digital edition to your Blackboard course allows for students to access all course materials from day one. Many students delay buying a textbook until they are sure that they will need it or until financial aid comes through, often causing them to fall behind. Although ebooks and "inclusive access" programs share this advantage, the open licensing of OERs makes it easier to address another kind of accessibility: modifying materials to suit the needs of visually- and hearing-impaired students.


The "5 Rs" of Open Education facilitate customizing course materials to the way you teach and your students' needs:

  • Retain - you can keep the work forever
  • Reuse - you can use the work again and again
  • Remix - you can combine the work with other material to create a new work
  • Revise - you can edit, modify, or translate the work
  • Redistribute - you can share the work (or your modification of it) with others

One example of customization is to modify an open textbook to include underrepresented perspectives or to eliminate material you won't be covering in your course. Open textbooks and other OER are published with licenses that give you permission to use one or more of the 5 Rs.

Student Learning

Ultimately, it is all about student success! Studies have consistently shown that OER are comparable in quality to conventionally-published course materials and that they may even have an edge where student learning is concerned. A recent study from Georgia showed that courses using OER had a positive effect on reducing DFW rates (see "The Impact of OER on Student Success," under Reports & Research, More About OER below). The results from our 2021 unit competition show similar trends among Upstate courses. The open education movement promotes "open pedagogy" as an important goal. It intersects with other movements in higher education that emphasize active learning, creating assignments with a life beyond the classroom, service learning, and transformative and inclusive pedagogies.

More About Open Educational Resources