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For higher ed, investing in OER pays eventual dividends

University Business, December 2018
Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative increased the number of students enrolling in open education resources-based courses.
Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative increased the number of students enrolling in open education resources-based courses.

Open education resources (OER) provide significant cost savings to low-income students and strengthen instruction and learning, according to a recent study from Achieving the Dream, a national nonprofit that supports evidence-based institutional improvement.

The study also examined, for the first time, OER-related costs and revenue for an institution.

Developing an OER course averages $11,700 (including faculty salary and benefits), while developing a full OER degree program costs nearly $500,000 per institution, found the study.

Factors examined included:

• instruction time

• development of collaborative institutional structures

• administrative coordination for expansion of OER and OER degree pathways

The research comes from Achieving the Dream’s ongoing OER Degree Initiative, a partnership with 38 community colleges in 13 states that has created nearly 3,000 sections of 385 OER courses since fall 2016.

Developing OER aids in institutional efforts to improve student success, says Richard Sebastian, director of the initiative.

“OER also offers opportunities for faculty to do things differently and really think about how they teach,” says Sebastian. Redesigning OER courses allows instructors to address new pedagogy and engagement.

Developing new courses takes 172 hours on average, the study found. In addition, team-built courses are more than twice as expensive as individual-built courses ($18,200 versus $8,900).

OER courses have little impact on institutions’ bookstore revenue streams, averaging less than 2 percent of the typical commission/profit, or an average loss of $11,200 per institution.

However, easy scalability means OER can be used in multiple sections of a course or shared with other institutions, therefore increasing ROI. More than 500 courses will be created by the initiative, which is scheduled to end in September 2019, says Sebastian.

Participating institutions have employed a broad range of strategies to build support for OER, including freeing faculty time and establishing a culture that supports OER implementation.

Incentivizing faculty to develop OER courses and degree pathways, and expanding the role of librarians and technologists to support faculty, has also been part of the effort.

“You need to call on leaders, encourage reluctant faculty and engage with everyone to really lay the track down and get that pathway in place,” says Sebastian. “If you do it right, you start to build out something that ripples beyond an individual course or department.”