Many people around the world continue to think of the primary benefits of OER being in cost savings for both providers and consumers of formal education. These claims have perhaps been best substantiated with respect to the savings made by students making use of open textbooks in the USA. A recent report by Open Course Library and Student PIRGs estimates that OCL has saved students $5.5 million since its inception with students saving an average of $96 per course compared with using traditional textbooks – some 90% reduction over the previous cost which would equate to $41.6 million at 100% adoption across the state. Washington’s community and technical colleges are experiencing the brunt of these savings although the financial impact on institutions is less certain. As a return on state investment, though, the case is fairly compelling. The Utah Open Textbook Project claims to be able to produce science textbooks for $5 each on a production run of just over 2,500. Figures like these make a clear case for the financial benefits of OER adoption and benefit from an evident point of comparison.
Evidence is less clear regarding the financial impact of OER adoption on institutions. As Wiley et al (2012) note, “no existing research empirically validates the arguments [that] open educational resources can save K–12 public schools money”. This said, we have identified some interesting cases within our collaborations. For instance, Byron High School (MN) found itself unable to afford new textbooks owing to budgetary change and so built a math curriculum from scratch and used open virtual learning environment tool to ‘flip’ the classroom. The success of this institution has led to increases in statutory funding as a result of increased prestige and recognition (Fulton, 2012). College of the Canyons – a member of CCCOER – has estimated its savings from open textbooks to be in the region of $400,000.
While there are a number of encouraging factors – particularly in relation to student savings – this remains an area where it can be hard to see the full picture. It can be tempting to think that financial benefits for institutions are marginal since data is hard to come by. But it remains a fact that most chief academic officers believe that OER can save their institution money, as the Babson Report (2011:25) found.
We have future leads to follow up with University of Maryland University College who are introducing a text book free model for 2013/14, a survey with the COPilot Librarians Group, and we anticipate that the forthcoming Boundless Report to demonstrate the financial impact of their open textbooks. In general, though, institutions remain sensitive about sharing financial information. What’s your perception of the financial benefits of OER? Which kinds of funding models should we look to?