New program offering alternatives to textbooks saves West Virginia college students $250,000 in pilot semesters

CHARLESTON, WV – Earlier this year, West Virginia’s public higher education office launched a program, Open Learning WV, that gives faculty the opportunity to implement Open Educational Resources (OER) as alternatives to traditional textbooks for their students. When the program was piloted in the spring 2021 semester, 34 faculty members created or adopted OER, and a handful more faculty adopted OER over the summer – resulting in more than $250,000 in savings for approximately 1,200 students.

“Going to college in West Virginia remains incredibly affordable thanks to our state financial aid programs, but something like costly textbooks can result in a student delaying their education. If we can prevent that from happening, we absolutely should,” said Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s Chancellor of Higher Education. “We’re only just starting Open Learning WV, but we are thrilled with the early savings students have seen. Our state leaders have really stressed the importance of making course materials more accessible and affordable, so we’ve worked hard to secure supporting funds to make alternative resources available to faculty. I’m looking forward to seeing these savings grow for our students.”

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need to make learning materials more easily accessible, but even before that – in 2019 – the West Virginia Legislature passed legislation that encourages the use of OER as a strategy to reduce the financial burden on students. As outlined in House Bill 2853, OER are materials that live in the public domain or are otherwise released under an open license that allow for low-cost and easy access to students.

As a direct result of this policy and thanks to a more than $1 million collaboration that began with a seed grant from the Ascendium Education Group, West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System piloted a grant opportunity to support faculty in implementing OER for use in their courses. Through Open Learning WV, faculty applied for $1,000 grants to modify course materials for an existing course to exclusively use OER either by selecting a material for adoption or creating a new one.

A participant survey found that 100 percent of participating faculty agree that the switch was worthwhile, and 98 percent of them agree that the materials they used were high-quality. Of impacted students surveyed, 71 percent of them reported that they have delayed or avoided purchasing course materials in the past because they didn’t have enough money, and 91 percent said they are more likely to take a course with a low-cost option in the future.

One student said they “did not have to stress” about purchasing materials for a class, thanks to Open Learning WV, and that it was “extremely helpful” since they’re from a one-income household.

Further implementation of OER through Open Learning WV is taking place in the fall 2021 semester and will continue through the spring 2022 semester. Interested faculty are encouraged to contact the Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Academic Affairs at 304-558-0261 for information about future opportunities.