M State to expand use of free or nearly-free textbooks

November 8, 2023

New initiative lowers college costs for students, bolsters equity and success rates

A student wearing a Spartan hoodie reads a book at the M State Fergus Falls library.

M State is embarking on a new cost-saving initiative for students and their families. The initiative is expected to not only increase the affordability of M State – which already has one of the lowest tuition rates of any two-year college in Minnesota – but also bolster student equity, retention, completion and overall success rates.

Most college-bound students cite cost and their likelihood of success as two top concerns, and this initiative addresses both. M State has signed on for a yearlong engagement with the Institute on Open Educational Resources, a national effort to expand the use of free or nearly-free textbooks and other instructional materials in higher education. M State is one of 48 institutions across the country to participate in the 2023-2024 institute.

“OER courses are becoming an integral part of our student success initiatives at M State,” says Alicia Carley, Dean for the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Our college has already done some work in OER, but we are looking to create a more robust catalog of offerings. The guidance provided by the institute will allow us to expedite this plan as well as generate a sustainability plan so we can continue these efforts well into the future.”

Coordinated by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Institute on Open Educational Resources (OERs) brings expert consultants together with local campus teams for frequent virtual events, meetings and mentorships as the colleges plan and implement the best OER strategies for their students.

OERs are educational materials – from single lessons to entire textbooks – that are free for teachers and students to use. They are a proven affordability strategy for colleges and students, and they also tend to level the academic playing field: Research shows performance gaps narrow when OERs are used, and in some contexts, failure and withdrawal rates are reduced.

M State’s OER team is made up of faculty leaders, librarians, campus store coordinators and marketing and IT professionals. As participants in the Institute on OERs, they’re working on expanding M State’s selection of Zero Textbook Cost Degree Programs, or Z-Degrees. Z-Degrees are known to save students about $2,000 a year, and it’s the OER team’s goal to get more M State faculty involved in the creation and adoption of these money-saving programs and courses so that more students can benefit.

M State already offers over 70 Z-Degree courses and one complete Z-Degree program, with two more full Z-Degree programs set to launch in fall 2024. By 2025, under the aims of the college’s OER team, M State will offer 25 new Z-Degree courses as well as three more new Z-Degree programs. In addition, student success, retention and completion rates will be evaluated for signs of positive impact.

“The OER institute will serve as a mechanism for us to create a cross-functional team of OER advocates,” says Marsha Weber, Dean of Extended Learning. “By removing barriers for students, this team will help improve and accelerate M State’s impact on affordability, equitability, student success and cultural responsiveness.”