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Open Educational Resources (OER) & Textbook Equity

What is Textbook Equity?

Textbook Equity is a campuswide initiative aspiring that all UNI students have access to high-quality course materials that are: affordable, accessible, and inclusive.

Initiative Accomplishments To Date:

  • Saved UNI students more than $2.4 million since tracking began in 2016.
  • Recognized more than 80 Textbook Equity Champions, UNI faculty who have demonstrated commitment to course materials access by transitioning courses to Open Educational Resources (OER), saving UNI students more than $485,000 in 2023.
    • Number of instructors increased by 129% from 2022.
    • Cost savings to students increased by 26% and hit a new UNI record.
    • More than 140 sections of 57 courses used free materials; course count increased 58%.
    • More than 3,250 students benefited from free textbooks, an increase of 25%.
  • UNIFI (general education) courses had a significant impact:
    • 61% of the cost savings comes from UNIFI courses.
    • The number of course sections in UNIFI using free texts increased by 423% in 1 year!
  • Created 2 one-time programs to publish UNI-authored free textbooks. From 2022 through 2024, Rod Library will publish 10 free, openly-licensed textbooks, saving UNI students more than $410,000 additional per year once implemented.
  • Started UNI Textbook Equity Student Advisory Board and partnered with Northern Iowa Student Government to engage students in textbook equity advocacy.
  • Partnered with UNI Registrar's Office and UNI Bookstore to increase transparency and data collection about versions of course materials that are free to students.
  • Created Course Materials Affordability Review service, an opt-in program for faculty to receive a customized list of free/affordable materials matching a course. More than 40 reviews have been completed for instructors in more than 20 academic departments/programs!
  • Participated in 2021-22 AAC&U Institute on OER to create a campus Action Plan for textbook equity.
  • Provide statewide leadership through participation on Iowa OER Action Team.

Why is Textbook Equity important at the UNI?

In the Fall 2023 Cost of Attendance survey (n = 1792), UNI students reported they:

  • share books (39%).
  • avoid purchase/rental of required texts (27%).
  • change sections or avoid registering for a specific course/section due to textbook costs (23%).
  • work extra hours to pay for textbooks (22%).
  • have earned a poor or failing grade due to textbook costs (17%).
  • have dropped a course or taken fewer courses due to textbook costs (16%).

    Data broken out by students' primary major is available upon request; contact Anne Marie Gruber.


Why does textbook equity matter?

Why OER?

Research has shown that using OER can lead to various benefits for students and instructors alike:

  • Students in courses using OER have similar learning outcomes, with pronounced benefits for Pell-eligible, non-white, first-generation, and non-domestic college students (Colvard et al., 2018; Clinton et al., 2019; Delgado et al., 2019; Marsh et al., 2022).
  • Students are more likely to stay in courses: courses with free materials have an average 29% lower withdrawal rate than those with commercial texts (Clinton & Khan, 2019; n=78,000).
  • Students who enroll in multiple OER courses take more credits and have higher course completion rates (Griffiths et al, 2020; Ross et al, 2018).
  • Courses implementing open pedagogy can drive student engagement, contribute to media literacy, and build students’ workforce readiness (Baran & AlZoubi, 2019; Sánchez Vera et al., 2021).
  • Instructors can innovate while improving their students’ learning experiences by implementing OER in their courses (Kimmel et al., 2022).
  • Students may feel an increased sense of belonging, both because they can access materials and if they can see themselves reflected in those materials (Nusbaum, 2020).
  • Students may feel an improved sense of mental wellbeing because stress caused by textbook costs is eliminated (Jenkins et al., 2020).

Textbook Equity at the National Level 

There are a number of ways to address textbook equity, as shown below. This guide primarily focuses on Open Educational Resources (OER).

Affordable course materials Venn diagram

Image courtesy: Abbey Elder (public domain)

Why Open Textbooks? 

Impact by College

Free Textbook Use 2023: Instructors & Courses

Free Textbook Use 2023: Student Cost Savings

Free Textbook Use 2023: Students Impacted