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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 a Fall 2019 survey by U.S. PIRG.

  • 63% of students report not buying a textbook because of cost
  • 17% of students skipped buying an access code
  • 90% of students worry that foregoing course materials will have a negative impact on their grades
  • 25% of students report working extra hours to be able to afford course materials

A third edition of the survey, conducted in Fall 2020, showed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on students. 65% of students now reported not purchasing a textbook and 21% reported not purchasing an access code. In addition, many reported problems with Internet access and food insecurity.


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 for your own purpose
  • 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 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