New Report Offers Guidance on How to Calculate Benefits of Open Educational Resources

Frameworks Help Evaluate OER as Universities Seek Cost Savings for Students

April 13, 2021; 1 p.m. CDT

Mary Roberson
MHEC Senior Director of Communications and Marketing

MINNEAPOLIS - With colleges and universities increasingly turning to freely accessible open educational resources (OER) to reduce growing higher education costs, institutions and state policymakers need a more consistent way to understand and discuss student cost savings and other OER benefits.

Informed by institutional, state, and national leaders, a report from the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) as part of a partnership with National Consortium for Open Educational Resources (NCOER) describes six principles to help define efforts to identify savings and returns from OER investments and offers two frameworks for making those calculations. Throughout the report are examples and artifacts of how others are approaching these determinations.

OER are teaching, learning, or research resources that are offered freely to users in at least one form and that either reside in the public domain or have been released under an open copyright license that allows for its free use, reuse, modification, and sharing with attribution. Over the last decade, more than 25 states have supported or invested in efforts to expand the use of OER as the cost of higher education has risen faster than the cost of most goods and services.

“As their investment indicates, states believe in the value of OER to reduce the cost of higher education to students,” said Jenny Parks, vice president of policy and research , who spearheaded MHEC’s work on the report. “It’s only appropriate that they have a transparent way to analyze the costs and benefits to guide further support of OER.”

The guiding principles defined in the report and the frameworks it describes address the intricacy of evaluating the return on investment from OER. The principles and approaches presented are designed to be adapted to local interests and needs, while still adding consistency and clarity. In analyzing the benefits and value of OER, leaders and advocates should consider outcomes such as changes in enrollment and eventual degree attainment, not simply dollars saved.

"It's uncommon that you get a group with so many different perspectives to come together and agree on a set of principles for such a complex topic that applies differently to different stakeholders,” stated Eddie Watson, associate vice president for Curricular and Pedagogical Innovation at the American Association of Colleges and Universities and a member of the working group. “This report brings together multiple perspectives to contribute more clarity and consistency to conversations around student cost savings and the various other benefits of OER."

Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the report is part of a series of projects designed to increase access, affordability and equity using OER and produced by NCOER which is a partnership between the regional compacts  including MHEC, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

The report’s guidance equips policymakers and other officials as well as advocates to communicate the full benefit of OER in a clear and accurate way. The report’s principles and frameworks serve as a starting point to help monitor, track, and continuously deepen the impact of the OER implementation on student success.


See resources from the April 13, 2022, report release webinar.