Students saved nearly $5M with Penn State's open educational resources

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Penn State announced last week that its initiative to enable access to higher education by lowering the cost of textbooks and other course materials has made serious progress, saving students a combined $4.8 million over the past three years.

“Penn State’s novel, combined approach to lowering textbook costs through the use of both freely open and affordable, or low-cost, resources, is gaining notice in higher education nationwide,” Penn State’s Rebecca Miller Waltz said in a press release.

Thanks to an initial three-year investment in 2016 of more than $200,000 from Provost Nick Jones, Penn State World Campus, University Libraries, Teaching and Learning with Technology, and Barnes & Noble, university leaders say open educational resources at Penn State have opened up new approaches to instruction, giving faculty greater flexibility to design lessons and assignments from online content that they can tailor to their instructional needs.

One of the primary benefits of increasing availability of open and affordable course materials, though, said Waltz, has been students’ reduced cost of attending classes.

Similar OER initiatives, including those at the University of Georgia and San Francisco State University, have similarly expanded access to education.

Student spending on course materials declined by 14 percent between 2018 and 2019, according to the National Association of College Stores, with students now spending an average of $400 on required course materials each year. This is in part due to OER, according to the report, which cites that 89 percent of students have used some form of free content.

With the success of Penn State’s initiative, the initial three-year investment to reduce the cost of textbooks and course materials has been renewed with an additional $600,000 to continue improving the affordability of education.