Last spring, Clarion University Faculty Senate passed a resolution to focus attention on the high cost of course materials and encouraged faculty to adopt open educational resources, which are no-cost or low-cost materials. A task force has been working this fall to further the use of OERs.
“The impetus was a realization by a number of faculty that, while (textbook) costs are continuing to rise, there are a number of low- or no-cost alternatives of increasing quality,” said Jim Lyle, assistant professor of communication and co-chair of the Open Educational Resources Taskforce. “National data shows that students pay an average of $700 per semester for textbooks, and that number often exceeds $1,000.”
A sample of Clarion University student textbook costs from a year ago showed an average of $450 per semester. Lyle said business and the sciences, particularly health sciences, have notoriously high textbook costs.
Clarion University is guided by its True North Initiative, which outlines goals and provides direction in reaching them.
"One area of emphasis in TNI is student affordability, and this initiative is aligned with reducing costs," said Dr. Pam Gent, provost. "Another area of TNI is student success. Some students are not able to afford textbooks, so they struggle in class and are not as successful as they could be. Adopting OERs will even the playing field for those students."
Earlier this semester, six courses adopted OERs, benefiting 291 students and saving them a combined $23,096. Lyle said other faculty members also have adopted free or low-cost resources.
"As an example, in communication courses, we eliminated the use of a public speaking textbook ... that was at least $130 for a (loose leaf version) new copy," Lyle said. "There are roughly 170 students in public speaking this semester. That's $22,000 in costs right there. Even if you reduce the costs through textbook rental or buying used versions, it's still a minimum cost of $50 a student."
Dr. NancyAnn Falvo, assistant professor of nursing, announced last week that the RN-BSN nursing program has adopted a textbook-free program, using the university's free, content management system, LibGuides, for all classes. It's an estimated cost savings of $700 per student for the program's nine core courses.
Falvo said she worked extensively with OER Taskforce co-chair Tonya Otto, virtual learning and outreach librarian for the university, and Dr. Terry Latour, dean of libraries, to identify resources. In addition to free access to the materials, Falvo said there's even greater value.
"When I was using textbooks, I might use one for up to six years, depending on when they put out a new edition," she said. "Now, students are getting the most up-to-date resources. In nursing, that's so important."
Falvo invested time in determining the collection of resources that would best serve students. She might use two chapters from one resource, five chapters from another, plus articles, podcasts and videos, all located in one spot.
In addition to the university's LibGuides, faculty members can generate their own materials and find ways to make them accessible.
"The faculty of the Clarion University Libraries assist teaching faculty with the identification of information resources that support their instructional goals," Latour said.
Creating OERs does require additional work on the part of faculty and administration, but it's work that is needed. Lyle said students everywhere are impacted by the high cost of textbooks, but public universities like Clarion have students with a wider range of economic backgrounds.
"The reality is that we have students who are forced to decide between things like books and food," Lyle said.
Gent said Clarion University is committed to helping students succeed, and this is just one of the many things they do to help students transform their lives.