Openly Licensed Resources Save Students Money, Improve Performance

Chancellor James B. Milliken announced that The City University of New York will slash the cost of textbooks for the highest-demand classes through the use of Open Educational Resources, or OER, freely available, high-quality books and other materials that can be downloaded, edited and shared. OER not only saves students’ money, it also helps them do better in school, according to a growing body of research.

Almost half of CUNY’s students come from households with less than $20,000 of income. Book costs totaling as much as $1,200 a year can be prohibitive for them. When he signed legislation in April enacting the Excelsior Scholarship, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced an $8 million OER allocation to be split equally between CUNY and the State University of New York. CUNY and SUNY are collaborating on strategies to convert commonly used textbooks to OER.

“Skyrocketing book costs often lead students to drop a course, or to try to make do without required texts,” Chancellor Milliken said. “Open Educational Resources will provide important financial relief for many of our students and their families, while helping improve student performance, class completion and accelerated graduation rates. OER and Excelsior are moving us ever closer to a future in which quality higher education is accessible to all low- and middle-income New Yorkers at no cost.”

CUNY will invest the $4 million state allocation on developing and converting materials to OER resources, orienting students and enrolling them in OER courses, and training faculty on how to shift from commercial textbooks to the cost-free OER universe, which already has some 1 billion books, audio recordings, videos and other openly licensed materials available.

Chancellor Milliken explained that the state OER allocation will enable CUNY to:

  • Convert at least 350 high-enrollment courses that have five or more sections to OER. That will affect some 1,750 classes in both community colleges and senior colleges.
  • Create zero-textbook-cost degree pathways that will enable students to attain a degree in some majors without spending any money on texts.
  • Support faculty to create OER textbooks and attendant works, contributing to the broader body of openly licensed materials.
  • Institutionalize OER across CUNY and improve student access, retention, time to graduation and success.

Affecting some 50,000 CUNY students, replacing traditional textbooks and other materials with openly licensed resources will save students more than $4.5 million in out-of-pocket expenses in the first year and an estimated $22 million in the fourth year of implementation.

Over the past decade, the average cost of college textbooks has increased a staggering 73 percent, more than four times the rate of inflation, according to data gathered by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, an independent national student organization. Individual textbooks often cost more than $200.

Borough of Manhattan Community College has been at the leading edge of converting classes to OER. 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. BMCC’s Criminal Justice degree program will be fully converted by Fall 2018.

CUNY’s open education librarian, Ann Fiddler, who coordinates OER initiatives, said, OER can improve student achievement. “In one CUNY math course that used OER, students scored 10 points higher on the final exam and were three times as likely to pass the course as students using expensive materials from traditional publishing companies,” she said.

In a controlled application at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Va., students utilizing OER resources in a variety of course formats fared as much as 11 percent better in both course completion and achievement. In addition, more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies have found that students who use OER perform as well as – or better – than their peers using traditional textbooks.

CUNY is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 400 high schools throughout the five boroughs. The University offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.