As a master’s student in professional counseling, I would estimate I spent nearly $500 on textbooks during my first year in the program, with the book content ranging from the basic introduction to the counseling profession, to diagnostic manuals and treatment planning resources. While I am excited to be pursuing my dreams, especially as a first-generation student, the cost of higher education has become an increasingly salient issue for me as I have progressed through my education. I often find myself wondering, when all is said and done and I walk across the stage as Dr. Henderson someday, how much will I have spent on my education, on tuition and books, from my bachelor’s degree to my doctorate? I know I am not alone in wondering this and feel that it has become a question that many students find themselves asking. The cost of education, and the materials that go along with our education, have become a substantial barrier for many to academic success. Some may argue that if students cannot afford the textbooks for classes, they can use their university library’s resources, but with limited resources that are often utilized by more than one student, many are left scrambling to access course materials that often determine their success in the course. While student success is a multi-faceted issue, I feel that we set many of our students up for failure by requiring expensive textbooks for courses, especially courses that are required to complete a degree. How can we address this textbook issue so that students have financially friendly options for class materials as they work toward their goals?
I first learned of open educational resources (OER) during my first semester of graduate school. In search of a job, I had applied for a position with UNC’s University Libraries as an OER graduate student employee. I remember reading through the job description and thinking to myself, “This position sounds great, and I think I’m qualified, but I have no idea what OER is!” Luckily, I landed the position, and had the opportunity to steadily learn all about OER for the next few months. The benefits of using OER in classrooms quickly became clear, and I realized that increasing the use of OER materials could help to alleviate some of the financial burden for students in higher education. However, I found myself wondering why I had not heard of OER before, and why professors were not using these resources in place of expensive textbooks more often. If we have the tools to make higher education more accessible and affordable, why aren’t we using them? I wonder if part of the issue stems from common misconceptions of OER, with one of the biggest misconceptions about OER materials being that because they are free, they must be of lower quality. While I am sure that OER materials exist out there which certainly are of lower quality, the materials I have come across and worked with during my time with University Libraries have been of overwhelmingly high quality. Many sites which offer collections of OER also offer rating systems for individual materials and provide users an opportunity to leave honest reviews and even suggestions for changing the material. In fact, one of the coolest aspects of OER is how customizable the content often is; using OER offers professors the opportunity to edit materials to better fit the focus of the course and its unique learning outcomes. While integrating OER into a course can be a learning curve, plenty of resources exist to make the process easier. To the professors considering OER, I encourage you to learn more and give it a chance; in making the jump to using OER, we provide our students with customized, high-quality, and affordable materials that contribute to their learning and overall success in higher education.