Building on open educational resources: helping students complete a degree without purchasing a single textbook

Graduation kids
Graduation kids

Investigating whether replacing traditional materials with freely available and openly licensed resources can increase college affordability and academic success.


College instructional material prices can be astronomical – a financial burden many students can’t afford. The Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative, created by Achieving the Dream (ATD) was formed to boost college access and completion by redesigning degree courses using open, free educational resources instead of pricey textbooks.

Once underway, the initiative needed to track implementation, student outcomes and cost-savings to promote broader OER adoption and recognition.


SRI International was retained to investigate the impacts the OER degree pathways had on students’ progress toward attaining degrees, the economic impacts on students and institutions and facilitators and barriers to implementation. SRI’s evaluation revealed promising findings that OER degrees can increase college affordability and has the potential to benefit students in a number of ways.

The OER Degree Initiative is a multi-funder program led by Achieving the Dream to enable community colleges to replace commercial instructional materials with open educational resources for courses necessary to complete a degree. SRI teamed up with partner rpk GROUP to examine implementation of the OER Degree Initiative in 38 colleges.

To understand implementation and costs of OER pathways for future program improvements and rollouts, SRI collected and analyzed course data on enrollment and completion of OER courses; college site visits; administrator and instructor interviews; focus groups with students and student surveys; and student background, transcript data and cost data collected.

The good news is that early findings were largely encouraging:

  • The OER Degree Initiative has spurred significant expansion of OER courses and enrollments at participating colleges.
  • Students find OER materials more relevant, easier to navigate and better aligned with learning objectives than traditional textbooks.
  • Faculty see increased student engagement with OER materials.
  • College leaders see OER degrees connected to other institutional strategic goals, including affordability, increased access and equity, decreased time to degree and improved pedagogy.
  • Students realize significant savings from free and open course materials, reducing financial burden that could have interfered with their participation and success in their program.

The use of OER is still relatively new, and SRI continues to analyze impacts on academic outcomes associated with OER degree to shed more light on how these pathways affect progress to degree completion.

Read these reports and blogs to learn more findings about the OER Degree Initiative:

Read more from SRI