CIC Launches Study of Open Educational Resources to Reduce Textbook Costs

​Students from historically underrepresented groups often face heightened financial challenges in enrolling and persisting in higher education. For these students, the cost of textbooks can become a major barrier to joining or excelling in a class, or even to continuing toward their degrees. With the average budget for textbooks and supplies at four-year colleges and universities reaching $1,240 per full-time student in 2020–2021, students often must borrow more money or work more hours to afford the materials for all their courses.

stack of booksIn response to this problem, many colleges and universities have begun to replace conventional textbooks and costly online course materials with open educational resources (OER): freely- licensed, customizable learning resources that are made available to students at no cost. In October 2020, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation awarded CIC a $99,660 grant to explore the potential of OER to reduce textbook costs for students at small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities, focusing on HBCUs and other minority serving institutions. CIC Senior Advisor Deanna Marcum, who previously served as managing director of Ithaka S+R and as the associate librarian for library services of the Library of Congress, is leading the research project. “Affordable Access: OER at CIC” continues CIC’s long commitment to strengthening campus libraries and fostering collaboration and capacity building in online learning. It also builds on past CIC programs, such as the Workshops on Information Fluency in the Disciplines, the Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction, and the Consortium on Digital Resources for Teaching and Research.

The goal of the project is to issue a report that showcases existing textbook cost-saving initiatives at CIC member HBCUs and minority-serving institutions, detailing the successes and challenges of these programs. The report will highlight best practices in the use of OER to support underrepresented students, and it will help promote and develop capacity for OER at CIC member institutions.

“Through this research report, CIC anticipates learning what has already been done by member colleges and universities to advance the creation, evaluation, and implementation of OER across the whole sector,” remarked Marcum. “Member campuses also will benefit from analysis of how OER can be most effectively used in the classroom at smaller private colleges to ensure equal access and support learning, especially for those students currently underrepresented in higher education.”

In February 2021, CIC conducted the project’s initial activity: a survey of librarians and academic officers from 157 CIC member colleges and universities that predominantly serve historically underrepresented student populations, to discover what OER programs are in place. The survey helped identify 22 institutions with successful models already in place that will serve as case studies for other institutions considering OER as a way to assist students. From that group of 22, five institutions will be selected to participate in a more in-depth look into faculty and student experiences with OER on their campuses. The final report will be published in early 2022. For more information about the project, contact Stephen Gibson, CIC director of programs, at