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Open Educational Resources (OER) & Textbook Equity

Textbook Equity Librarian

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Anne Marie Gruber

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 $1.5 million since tracking began in 2016.
  • Created a program 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 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.
  • Recognized more than 45 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 $300,000 per year.
  • 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.
  • Awarded $192,519 external grant for OER creation, resulting in the Regents OER Grant Program.
  • Created UNI Textbook Equity Mini-Grant Program for faculty to transition courses to existing OER or create their own. The first 5 projects will save UNI students more than $64,000 per year once complete.

Why is Textbook Equity important at the UNI?

In a spring 2021 survey (n = 688), UNI students reported they:

  • share books (61%).
  • avoid purchase of required texts (48%).
  • change sections or avoid registering for a specific course/section due to textbook costs (29%).
  • have earned a poor or failing grade due to textbook costs (23%).
  • have dropped a course or taken fewer courses due to textbook costs (19%).

Why OER?

In addition to being free to access, research has shown that the use of 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 textbooks (Clinton & Khan, 2019; n=78,000).
  • Students who enroll in more than one OER course take more credits than their peers 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 confidence in students’ workforce readiness (Baran & AlZoubi, 2019; Sánchez Vera et al., 2021).
  • Instructors are able to innovate in their teaching 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).


Why does textbook equity matter?

Impact by College 

UNI faculty saved students more than $387,000 in 2022 through reported use of free online textbooks including Open Educational Resources (OER).

2022 Instructors & Courses

2022 Students Impacted

2022 Student Cost Savings

Get Involved! 

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?