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Alternative Textbook Incentive Program, Open Educational Resources Save Students an Estimated $2.3 Million

June 6, 2019

Students often struggle with the cost of textbooks on campus. According to a recent survey conducted by the UH Student Government Association, over 37% of respondents have not purchased a required textbook due to the cost. The Office of the Provost and University Libraries have partnered to encourage instructors to use Open Educational Resources (OER). Open educational resources offer an alternative to the problem of expensive textbooks for students.

“One of the reasons I led UH to join the Open Textbook Network was to open up opportunities for UH faculty to have resources and support to effectively cut the cost of educational materials that were escalating the cost to our students. We, as faculty, are continually looking at ways to improve the success of our students at the collegiate level” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “And that includes increased access and affordability for the tools our students need to be prepared in the classroom.” 

Open Educational Resources are teaching and learning resources that are freely available and carry legal permission for open use. With OER, students have access to course materials from the first day of the semester and are more likely to successfully complete the course. To encourage the use of OER among instructors of record, the Office of the Provost and UH Libraries offered workshops and consultations about the program, as well as conducted a survey to determine their use across campus. Of the survey’s respondents, 75 faculty across 8 colleges said that they used OER or library resources to help students save money.

As a result of the survey data, UH Libraries estimates approximately $712,800 was saved in academic year 2019, and with the same amount of savings estimated for academic year 2020, that brings the total savings for students to $1,425,600 in just two years.

“The University is committed to enabling students to have free or low-cost access to their textbooks or learning materials on the first day of class” said Lisa German, dean of the UH Libraries. “Through the work of our OER coordinator, Ariana Santiago, we are working to support barrier-free access to course materials. We want to increase the academic freedom to our faculty, letting them control the course materials for our students rather than the textbook publishers.”

The Office of the Provost and the UH Open Educational Resources Committee have also partnered together to incentivize faculty to adopt, adapt, or create an open textbook for use in their courses through the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program (ATIP). By shifting to freely accessible and openly licensed teaching, research, and learning tools, including textbooks, more students will have access to course materials.

The first year of the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program awarded 16 applicants a total of $23,500 to develop and adopt freely accessibly and openly licensed resources for the classroom. Applications were due in March of 2018 and awards would benefit instructors of record for courses taught in summer 2018, fall 2018, or spring 2019. Five of the projects awarded in 2018 were for creating open educational resources (OER), seven involved the adoption of OER and/or library materials, and three involved a combination thereof. Projected student savings are based in part on enrollment and amount to approximately $231,074 in the first year of the award cycle.

The second application cycle for the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program closed March 29, 2019. Applicants were instructors of record for summer 2019, fall 2019, and spring 2020 courses. 23 faculty received $31,000 in grants.

Based on the current awarded projects, the cost savings estimated for academic year 2020 are $757,380. This brings the total savings for students to $957,380 in the two years since the program’s implementation.

“I think that, given the current success of this program, the use of open educational resources and affordable textbook options will continue to grow on this campus” Short added.

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