Higher education faces a serious problem over rising costs, with Americans owing $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.[1] Over the recent years, colleges have experimented with ways to relieve some of the financial pressure, such as instituting tuition freezes or cuts. However, many have struggled with maintaining their new price tag and returned to the same price within a couple of years.

Cost cutting has been an obstacle in the classroom, as educators try to stretch their budgets. “Open educational resources” (also known as OER) is a movement on the rise, rooted in the belief that anyone can learn, with the goal of eliminating financial, legal, and technical barriers to education. Open educational resources are available for free or a low cost under an open license, which means that it can be edited and tailored for a teacher’s particular course or student needs.

For many educators, it’s helping their students save hundreds of dollars in textbooks. In 2015, the National Association of College Stores reported that college students were spending an average of $323 on course materials. Textbook publishers have already responded by working with open-source providers or producing digital versions of their hardcover books. Publishers realize that engaging and interactive texts will lead to improving student performance and significant cost cutting for their user, and colleges are picking up on the same benefits too. For example, a handful of colleges in Virginia and Maryland launched an OER initiative that helped their students save as much as $1,300 a year.[2] And for the Columbus Municipal School District we featured last week, their district realized more than $800,000 in savings in their transition to open educational resources.

There are millions of openly licensed materials available, and recent research has shown more than 57 percent of college faculty members have found OER content to offer the same quality content as the textbooks they’ve used in the past.[3] One of the advantages is that open educational resources are more likely to be up to date, while it may take years for an updated textbook. The increasing value of open educational resources also marks a contemporary shift in the teacher’s role in the learning experience, so the teacher is facilitating and not dominating the process. With OER as a new vehicle to learning, K-12 and college educators gain the capacity to remove the financial barriers to learning and create dynamic and engaging ways for students to use the course content.


[1] Gustafson, Krystina. “$1.3 Trillion in Student Loan Debt Is Crippling Retail Sales Growth,” CNBC, 22 Aug 2016. Link

[2] Douglas-Gabriel, Danielle. “College Courses Without Textbooks? These Schools Are Giving It a Shot,” The Washington Post, 15 June 2016. Link

[3] Straumsheim, Carl. “Open, but Undiscovered,” Inside Higher Ed, 4 Nov 2014. Link