Eleven U.S. colleges and universities that partnered last summer with Rice University-based nonprofit publisher OpenStax to boost the use of freely available textbooks and learning materials on their campuses expect the program to save their students nearly $8.2 million — about $4 million more than projected — in the coming academic year.
OpenStax, a unique publisher that uses philanthropic grants to produce high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free online and low-cost in print, launched its Institutional Partnership Program to spur the use of open educational resources (OER) at U.S. campuses. In 2016, 43 schools applied for the 11 available slots. Each agreed to promote the use of OER materials on its campus through an intensive, yearlong program supported by dedicated OpenStax staff who assisted the partners in adopting both OpenStax titles and other free or low-cost OER.
The 2016 partners were Alamo Colleges (Texas), the University of Arizona, Washington State University, Utah State University, Pasadena City College (California), the University of Connecticut, Lansing Community College (Michigan), College of the Canyons (California), Tulsa Community College (Oklahoma), Northern Essex Community College (Massachusetts) and South Florida State College. The schools have a combined enrollment of more than 300,000, and in announcing the partnerships last year, OpenStax estimated the yearlong effort would result in a collective student savings on the campuses of at least $4.2 million.
Upon tallying year-end figures, OpenStax found that the number of students expected to use OER materials at the 11 schools this fall will be more than 300 percent higher than in 2015-16, the last year before enrolling in the partnership program. Student savings from OER at the 11 schools in 2017-18 are expected to be $8.2 million, about $4.8 million of which will result from using OpenStax books.
OpenStax’s story is one of the most remarkable in modern publishing. It measures success not in terms of books sold or revenue earned but rather in dollars saved by students who do not have to buy textbooks because they can use a free one from OpenStax. Since 2012, OpenStax has created titles for nearly 30 high-enrollment, introductory college courses. Those books are now used by almost 2 million students at more than 3,800 colleges, universities and high schools, and OpenStax expects to meet or beat its goal of saving U.S. college students $500 million by 2020.
“We set a high bar for schools in the partner program,” said Nicole Finkbeiner, OpenStax’s associate director for institutional relations. “Each partner has to show a strong, prior commitment to using OER, and they have to set and accomplish challenging new goals through a strategic planning format that ensures their success.”
Finkbeiner coordinates support, works with partner campuses and organizes regular conference calls where partners can support and learn from one another.
Jennifer Kneafsey, an associate professor of biology at Tulsa Community College, said, “During each monthly conference call, I gained at least one idea or strategy that I could adapt for use at our college. Often, these were things I’d never have thought to try. So being able to hear the best practices from other schools was really helpful to our efforts.”
Kneafsey said Tulsa’s initial goals seemed daunting at first, but the support — particularly the sharing of best practices by other partners — allowed the college to increase its OpenStax adoptions from three to 15 in just one semester. As a result, Tulsa students are expected to save $297,000 in the upcoming academic year using OpenStax, compared with less than $18,000 in the 2015-16 school year.
Erin Davis, distance education library services coordinator at Utah State University, said teaming up with the other OpenStax partner schools provided a sense of community.
“Learning about other schools’ successes and frustrations each month was inspiring,” Davis said. “I learned so many new techniques and innovative ideas that I could then apply at my own campus. I loved the structure of this program. It’s inspiring to see how many students are impacted by OER adoption. The numbers really add up quickly.”
Finkbeiner said 11 new partner schools, with a collective enrollment of more than 775,000, joined the partner program this month. They are College of Lake County (Illinois), De Anza College (California), Florida International University, Grossmont College (California), Houston Community College (Texas), Saddleback College (California), Sinclair Community College (Ohio), the State University of New York System, the University of Hartford (Connecticut), the University of Kansas and California State University, Fullerton.
OpenStax’s other longstanding institutional partners include Auburn University (Alabama), BCcampus (British Columbia), Central New Mexico Community College, Grand Rapids Community College (Michigan), Maricopa Community Colleges (Arizona), Ohio State University, Salt Lake Community College (Utah), Tarrant County College (Texas), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Idaho, the University of Georgia, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University System of Georgia and Virginia Tech.
OpenStax titles include Algebra and Trigonometry; American Government; Anatomy and Physiology; Astronomy; Biology; Calculus, volumes 1, 2 and 3; Chemistry; Chemistry: Atoms First; College Algebra; College Physics; College Physics for AP Courses; Concepts of Biology; Elementary Algebra; Intermediate Algebra; Introduction to Sociology 2e; Introductory Statistics; Microbiology; Prealgebra; Precalculus; Principles of Economics; Principles of Macroeconomics; Principles of Macroeconomics for AP Courses; Principles of Microeconomics; Principles of Microeconomics for AP Courses; Psychology; University Physics, volumes 1, 2 and 3; and U.S. History.
OpenStax plans to publish a second edition of its economics titles this fall and Business Statistics in 2018.
OpenStax is made possible by the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation, the Maxfield Foundation, the Calvin K. Kanzanjian Foundation, the Bill and Stephanie Sick Fund and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation.