COVID-19 has exacerbated the financial need and insecurity of students across the UT System. UT System students need Open Educational Resources now more than ever. Learn why and what UT System institutions can do about it in these two statements shared widely by the UT System ALA Task Force.
Affordability of higher education is a pressing concern for University of Texas System students and institutions. In the UT System, 51% of undergraduate students received need-based grant aid, and 39.8% received Pell in Fall 2018. Students struggle with food and housing insecurity and the rising costs of tuition, fees and textbooks weigh heavily on UT System students and institutions.
University of Texas institutions are addressing these concerns head on through a variety of endeavors, including a focus on making textbooks and other learning materials—including adaptive learning systems and courseware—more affordable.
Responding to advocacy and inspiration from the UT System Student Advisory Council, the Library Directors, faculty and other affordability champions, the UT System’s Affordable Learning Accelerator Task Force was convened in Spring 2019 to support and accelerate institutional efforts to expand the availability and affordability of high-quality, low- or no-cost, cutting-edge and next-generation instructional and learning resources to students.
Drawing on the leadership and expertise of faculty, students, staff and administrators from across the UT System, the Task Force will:
Elevate awareness of, and deepen engagement with existing high-quality Open initiatives, in the UT System, across Texas and with other states, with a particular focus on Open Educational Resources (OER);
Identify strategies and collaborative opportunities to expand the adoption and development of affordable and next-generation learning resources, including OER, existing library-purchased materials, low-cost business models that remove barriers to affordability, and other affordable resources across UT institutions, in Texas and nationally;
Assess and identify mechanisms for monitoring current and potential ROI of such efforts across the System;
Evaluate and identify metrics to assess the impact of OER and other affordability measures on student success outcomes; and
Identify funding opportunities to amplify the work on behalf of students across the UT System and Texas.
The Accelerator Task Force will focus broadly on financial well-being as critical to student success and engagement, as well as quality, equity and inclusion as core values of the UT System. The Task Force will have regular and culminating check-ins with UT System and institutional leadership.
The Task Force expects to complete its work in Spring 2020 and will report its findings and recommendations to Chancellor Milliken and UT System executive leadership.
Task Force members can be found here.
Required materials, like textbooks, can represent a significant cost to students. Textbook prices have increased over 1,000% since 1977, or more than 3 times the rate of inflation (Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 2015).
According to research on open textbook pilots conducted by Student PIRGs (Open Textbooks: the Billion Dollar Solution, 2015):
- Students save an average of $128 per course when traditional textbooks are replaced with open textbooks
- 65% of students have declined to obtain a required textbook because they were too expensive
- Studies show using OER produces equal or improved student learning outcomes compared to traditional textbooks (https://openedgroup.org/review)
Working Groups and Deliverables
The Task Force is organized into three working groups, focused, respectively, on OER, affordable business and next-generation strategies, and the faculty rewards system. Together, they will develop shared definitions of affordability, quality and equity operationalized throughout their research, review and recommendations.
Working Group 1 is focused on Open Educational Resources and will:
- Conduct environmental scans of OER in the UT System, Texas, and other states.
- Develop framework to capture ROI and progress on metrics.
- Develop recommendations to increase adoption and development of OER.
- Identify best practices to comply with and track SB 810.
- Identify additional student success and affordability metrics for UTS institutions.
- Identify funding needs and opportunities to promote OER in the UT System.
Working Group 2 is focused on affordable business and next-generation strategies and will:
- Identify best practices, policies and barriers to affordable learning opportunities.
- Review Inclusive Access contracts and Access Codes across the UT System and develop use of guidelines.
- Identify licensing and contracting efficiencies and opportunities with publishing companies and other vendors.
- Review research/practice in the UT System and elsewhere resulting in recommendations for increasing engagement and expansion of affordable, quality and high-impact pedagogy, software, tools, etc.
- Evaluate the development of a UT System platform/repository for low-cost, next-generation resources, including OER.
- Research/evaluate appropriate metrics to assess the impact of identified affordability measures, tools and resources on student success outcomes.
- Identify funding needs and opportunities to promote affordable, next-generation resources and tools.
Working Group 3 will collaborate with the UT System Faculty Advisory Council (FAC) to:
- Develop guidelines and recommendations for incentivizing/recognizing OER and other affordability measures/tools/strategies.
- Develop recommendations for promoting a student affordability mindset in faculty.
- The UT System Student Success Framework includes a pillar focused on Finances articulated as follows: The UT System is committed to making sure that no student drops out of college because of financial hardship.
- The effort to promote affordability and affordable learning options and resources for students, must include attention to equity across student populations and characteristics so that all students have access to, persist through, participate in, and complete high-quality degrees.
- Affordability must be delivered without sacrificing quality: UT System institutions are committed to teaching and learning resources and business strategies that are affordable and high-quality.
- The Task Force will honor and respect student governance and work to address the priorities identified by the UT System Student Advisory Council (SAC) in their 2018-19 Recommendations to the Chancellor.
- The Task Force will honor and respect faculty governance and autonomy, including priorities identified by the UT System Faculty Advisory Council (FAC). In particular, the Task Force will pay close attention to protecting faculty intellectual property and copyright, oversight of the curriculum, and academic freedom in determining appropriate resources for the courses they teach.
- In fulfilling the charge of the Affordable Learning Accelerator Task Force, members will follow a SMART process in accomplishing its charge and completing deliverables: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
- Task Force members will be open to outside-the-box thinking, flipping orthodoxies, and disrupting business as usual, as appropriate.