In the halls of higher education and here at ULV, we see a learning divide – an equity gap between learners who have access to learning materials and learners who do not because they cannot afford the high cost of textbooks. We believe institutions of higher education need to narrow the learning divide by making learning materials available as free open educational resources (OER). This will bring down the cost of learning materials to all ULV students, regardless of class and income status, or location.
We believe the OER movement is a social justice movement because it grants access, equity and affordability to students of all income classes. Textbook costs to students seeking higher education rise on average 6% per year – this is an educational equity and social justice issue. A social justice stance is cutting ties to expensive textbooks and providing greater access to higher education. We are part of this social justice movement calling for change. We believe the answer is simple: The ULV Wilson Library already has a repository of over 5,000 open access texts that can be used for all classes, from the STEM to the humanities. We can use what we already have.
Open educational resources are teaching and learning texts which are freely available and openly licensed, available for learners to access at no cost – creating equity in access by anyone. “In a survey of more than 2,000 college students from 150 institutions across the country, 65% of respondents reported that they had decided against purchasing their textbooks due to costs” (Center for Public Interest Research, 2014). This means that many students at ULV are not buying the books they need, which limits their learning potential. We also make hard decisions on which courses to take based on the specific cost of textbooks. Many students do not receive financial aid and therefore buy books from their own savings, taking food off the table.
We believe the high cost of textbooks should be of concern not only to ULV students, staff, faculty and administrators, but also to society. Other schools are leading the charge on free OER textbooks that offer the same educational benefits as traditional textbooks. Comparison studies between traditional and OER texts suggest there was general satisfaction with the quality, cost savings, and accessibility with open textbooks (Hilton et al.). OER also provides students with accessible learning materials from the very first day of class. Faculty have reported willingness to use open textbooks to help ease the burden on students but are unsure where to find viable options and would welcome assistance identifying materials for their course. Northern Virginia Community College reports a higher student success rate in courses that used OER.
We the students ask the University of La Verne to commit to vigorously develop, promote and reinforce policies on the use of OER for all classes across campus, as a matter of inclusion, affordability and justice. We believe that the OER movement already speaks to ULV’s social justice mandate and that ULV already has what it takes to move in this direction. We believe this movement will not only help reduce student debt-load and drop-out rates, but also increase persistence.
Experienced OER users could serve as models and mentors to those new to OER. ULV librarians can help us identify and access OER texts, facilitating finding, retrieving and sharing of OER. And, ULV instructional designers and administrators can develop and reinforce policies on the use of OER. This could easily be supported as a faculty and staff training.
In the spirit of equitable access and social justice, we thank you for listening.
ULV Students Committed to the OER Social Justice Movement
This letter was signed by 36 University of La Verne undergraduate students.