Due to the high price of textbooks, open educational resources (OER) are becoming an increasingly popular choice in college classrooms.

According to the 2017 National Higher Education Report, 9 percent of professors use OER materials. While this is a small percentage overall, it’s still a substantial increase from the 5-percent adoption rate in 2015–16. The demand for high-quality and accessible OER resources is high, but there are still plenty of barriers preventing wider adoption rates.

Challenges with OER

Every year, the number of professors aware of OER materials increases, but according to Jeff Seaman, co-author of the report and co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, this is “one of those glass half-empty, half-full kind of things.”

Among those surveyed, 49 percent of professors said there were not enough resources for their particular subject, while 45 percent claimed there was no comprehensive OER resource catalogue to draw from. However, the same report showed that professors teaching large, introductory-level classes used OER materials at twice the rate of general faculty members.

Making the switch

Public and private companies are confronting the challenges to wider adoption of OER resources, with different strategies.

Open-access companies and non-profit publishers like Lumen Learning and OpenStax are creating more accessible ways to use open courseware.

More traditional private publishers like Cengage offer subscriptions that include OER textbooks while also providing assessment tools. Although still carrying a cost—a point of criticism for OER advocates—this option is nevertheless much cheaper than the average $97 textbook price tag.

State institutions are getting more involved as well. In 2016, the California legislature allocated $5 million toward zero-cost courseware for community college degrees. New York recently gave $8 million to support using OER materials at some public colleges, and in Maryland, 66 new courses at 14 institutions have already switched to OER materials.

As further efforts are taken toward expanding the use of OER resources, future students should see lower costs without losing access to quality higher education.