To students and families already struggling to afford college tuition and fees, spending an additional $1,240 per year on books and supplies can be a breaking point. This cost constitutes as much as 39% of tuition and fees at a community college and 14% of tuition and fees at a four- year public institution (data obtained from the 2019-20 College Board survey for full-time undergraduate students). Moreover, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for digital textbooks is surging and the problem is compounded by the fact that without on-campus resources, including library reserve textbook collections, students are facing more barriers to access course content. Existing research also points to a negative impact on student grades, retention rates, and graduation time when there is lack of access to primary course materials.
Open textbooks and open educational resources (OER) present a viable alternative to costly publisher content. Defined, open educational resources are teaching and learning materials freely available for everyone to use and are typically openly licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors. At New York City College of Technology – CUNY, the college’s library began an OER initiative in fall 2014 to introduce faculty to OER as an alternative to traditional textbooks, and since then faculty have adopted OER across 26 of 28 academic departments and 116 courses – alleviating great financial strain and increasing access to course materials.
The main objective of this paper is to investigate the association between the use of OER in engineering programs and student academic performance and retention rates. Analysis of early data demonstrates that for course sections where OER was used, retention rates increased significantly, and withdrawal rates lowered significantly.