Academic News

Open Educational Resources Lowering Textbook Costs for CUNY Students

June 8, 2017

Conversations about college affordability often center on tuition costs, but textbook expenses are a significant factor for many students at CUNY and colleges and universities across the country. The average college student spends $1,200 on textbooks per year—an amount that is not negligible for any student, and prohibitive for many from low income households.

In response to this issue, Open Educational Resources (OER) are becoming increasingly prominent on higher education’s national stage, as a way of making high-quality online materials available to students for free. Recently the U.S. Department of Education recognized the momentum of the #GoOpen movement, noting that “openly licensed educational resources can be powerful tools for transforming learning and providing educational opportunities for all students. When implemented strategically, these resources can help states, districts, schools, and students and their families reinvent approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.”

CUNY is emerging as an innovative leader in OER implementation, with the Office of Library Services leading this charge to help save money and improve academic success for students. Thanks to a generous $4 million investment from New York State, the CUNY Libraries and the Office of Academic Affairs are taking on new initiatives that will convert more high-enrollment courses to OER materials, create “zero-degree” programs that will make entire degrees in some majors free of textbook costs, and support faculty development of OER textbooks and other works that will contribute to the growing body of openly licensed materials for instruction. Every school at CUNY has proposed to convert high enrollment classes and degree pathways. As many as 300 courses and 2,000 sections are expected to transition in FY 2018.This will impact as many as 50,000 students.

These new efforts will help to institutionalize OER across CUNY and improve student access, retention, time to graduation and success. Meanwhile, other initiatives are underway and beginning to make an impact. This year, three CUNY colleges—Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College, and Hostos Community College—launched several “zero-degree” programs with funding from Achieving the Dream. The university has also established a designation in CUNYfirst that is allowing academic departments to flag OER courses so that students and advisors can search “[designation code?]” to find courses without textbook costs—so far 260 courses are in the system, a number that is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

Further, as CUNY colleges work to engage more faculty in the creation of OER materials and related adaptation of pedagogy, there are already examples of faculty OER texts that are making a difference in the academic experiences of students. A math professor who authored an OER textbook notes that students in the OER section of his course scored 10 points higher on the CUNY Elementary Algebra final exam, were more than twice as likely to take the final exam, and were almost three times more likely to pass the course.

Read more about how CUNY is using OER:

From Inside Higher Ed: “A Mean Amount of Money”
An Excerpt: With its $4 million, CUNY plans to expand an existing grant program to create up to 300 zero-textbook-cost courses or convert existing courses that use commercial textbooks. The system is looking for colleges that can commit to creating five, 15 or even 25 such courses, and five sections of each course, said Greg Gosselin, interim university dean of libraries and information systems.

Ann Fiddler, CUNY’s Open Education Librarian, pens op-ed for
An Excerpt: To give some perspective about what this means for our students, consider that CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College enrolls 5,400 students in its Introduction to Psychology classes. The textbook for that course costs $190. If all sections of that course adopted the OER model, student savings would be $1,026,000 in one year. And that’s just one class at one community college.

BMCC Leading the Way in CUNY OER Effort
An Excerpt: Currently, BMCC faculty are teaching approximately 175 sections of zero-textbook-cost courses, resulting in an estimated annual savings of $450,000 for more than 4,000 students. By Fall 2017, cumulative savings for BMCC students will be more than $1 million, according to figures compiled by the BMCC A. Philip Randolph Memorial Library.

Three CUNY Community Colleges Join National OER Degree Initiative
An Excerpt: The OER Degree initiative is spearheaded by the community college reform network Achieving the Dream, Inc., (ATD), and launched in mid-June (2016) with 38 participating colleges in 13 states. CUNY’s participating colleges, like the others, will use funding from ATD to adapt existing associate degree programs so that course curricula is based entirely on materials that are freely available online—meaning that students in these programs will not need to purchase or borrow text books; rather, they will have digital access everything they need for course assignments, including multimedia content and resources that can be updated in real time.