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Open Educational Resources & The Cost of Required Course Materials in Four-Year Universities

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John Hansen, Julia Cramer, Patrick Chase - December 2019

The 2018 Washington State Legislature assigned WSIPP to examine the per-student cost of required textbooks and course materials and the use of open educational resources (OER) at public four-year universities across the state. OER is an alternative model for course materials and relies on content that is free to use, alter, and distribute for educational purposes.

In this report, we estimate the average cost of required items, the average cost of required materials per course, and the average cost of required materials for students earning a bachelor’s degree. We found that, on average, students completing a bachelor’s degree at public universities in Washington were expected to spend approximately $2,734 on required textbooks and course materials.

We could not precisely measure the prevalence of OER use in Washington’s public four-year universities, because OER use has not been tracked systematically. Using data from campus book stores, we found that 26% of undergraduate courses required $0 of course materials. Relying on interviews, a review of available research, and additional analyses, we examined several potential practices for supporting OER use in four-year universities. We found that grant programs like Washington’s current OER Grant Pilot Program were a potentially cost-effective approach to supporting wider OER adoption in four-year universities.

Report ID: 19-12-2301

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