New Semester, Same Cost of Attendance

By Torrey Feldman

This fall, students returned to classrooms on university campuses across the country with one thought in mind: When am I getting my loan disbursement check? In this country, loans can be provided to college students up to the total amount of their cost of attendance (COA). The schools get the first crack at those federal or private loan dollars by deducting tuition and fees from the overall COA. Whatever’s left  is disbursed to the student. 

These funds are vital to students who don’t have the funds by any other means to acquire textbooks, other course materials, and oftentimes money for rent and/or groceries. The disbursement process usually occurs within the first week of classes, but is not guaranteed to happen prior to the first day of class. So there are often students sitting in their first course without the things they need for class and, more importantly, without their rent paid and food at home. 

Open Educational Resources (OER) can be a means of cost saving both for students and for institutions. When a professor switches from the traditional means of teaching their course from an expensive textbook to OER materials, the student is then able to access their required course materials for a significantly reduced price, or entirely for free. So not only can OER alleviate a financial burden for students, but these resources also allow for students to arrive for their first day of class stress-free (at least as it pertains to having the correct reading materials).

But OER isn’t just beneficial for students seeking to pursue higher education. Colleges and universities can also benefit from immediate and long-term effects of OER. It is no shock that the cost of higher education is rising, both for the students and for the universities that are seeking to educate them. As such, both sides of the higher education coin could benefit from OER because the freeing up of monies for required course materials aids students and the ability for schools to cut down on bookstore maintenance, for example, allows for funds to be spent elsewhere.

OER, unlike many alternatives, can be a means to alleviate financial stress on students *and* on universities. As Matt Reed writes in OER as an Institutional Survival Study, “Money not spent on textbooks can offset tuition increases from a student perspective, while still allowing needed operating revenue to flow to the institution.” He gives the example that one course on a student’s schedule switching to OER could potentially make up the difference in a tuition increase. If two, three, or all of a student’s courses in a semester followed suit, that could give the student the flexibility to not need to take out higher loans because they’re no longer covering the cost of expensive books. 

Further, the benefits of OER can be seen for both the students and their universities from the very first day of the freshman fall semester through graduation. “Even better, OER allows every single student to have the book from the first day of class, which can help with course completion and retention, and therefore enrollment,” Reed writes. “[Colleges & universities] can maintain a sustainable funding level for the college, keep costs down for students, and improve retention rates at the same time.” 

As the higher education terrain currently stands, it is rather difficult to find a negative to OER that outweighs the positives for the higher education universe on the whole, including students, professors, and the school’s bottom line. When we take a moment to truly access real life implications of OER, it becomes even harder to fathom why embracing OER is a slow trend and not the norm.

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