An OER-based degree consists of a full pathway of courses that have been redesigned by faculty to use OER instead of expensive traditional textbooks. First introduced at U.S. community colleges in 2013, cost savings for students enrolled in these pathway courses is estimated to be up to 25% depending on the major.  The cost of OER adoption to the institution has been less studied although it is clear that successfully developing and integrating OER into teaching practices and the college learning management system involves real costs in terms of significant faculty and staff effort that traditionally would be supported by textbook publishers.  Institutions have relied on various one-time funding both internal and external to support this new work but ongoing operational funding will be necessary to make the use of OER the norm rather than the exception.

Sustainable Funding Models

Tidewater Community College and Lumen Learning who together pioneered the Z-degree, an Associate of Science Business degree where all 21 courses in the pathway were redesigned to use OER, has reported an increase in tuition revenue associated with the program.  Due to a decrease in drop rates among students enrolled in their Z-degree OER courses, the college is able to retain tuition revenue that otherwise would be refunded.  This retained revenue can create a sustainable funding model to support ongoing and expanded efforts for OER degrees.  The new funding model has been named INTRO (INcreased Tuition Revenue through OER) and an article recently published in the peer-reviewed, independent, open access journal, Education Policy Analysis Archives, documents this important research.

Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative Research

SRI International, along with partner rpkGROUP, will conduct the research and evaluation for the OER Degree initiative which launched in June 2016 and completes in December 2018.  Examinations of how OER degrees impact key student outcomes and costs for students and institutions, as well as facilitators and barriers to successful implementation of this model will be conducted. A primary goal of the study is to determine, with as much confidence possible, whether the availability of OER degree options enables students to attempt and complete more college credits and thus progress more quickly towards attaining degrees. SRI will conduct a mixed-methods study to examine the impacts of the OER Degree Initiative on students, faculty and institutions. Research questions are as follows:

Academic outcomes:

RQ1: Do students who take OER degree classes make greater progress towards degrees compared with similar students who take traditional classes?

RQ2: Are OER degrees more or less beneficial to particular subgroups of students (e.g. Pell eligible)?

RQ3: What are the key mediators of effects on student outcomes; for example, do students in OER degree classes work fewer hours outsideofschool?

Economic outcomes:

RQ 4: How does enrolling in OER degrees impact costs for students of pursuing degrees?

RQ 5: What are the start-up and ongoing costs for an institution to make the transition to OER degrees, including lost revenue streams?  Is this model self-sustainable?

RQ 6: What is the cost effectiveness of this model in terms of cost per desired unit of impact on student outcomes? What is the “return” on investment (ROI) for students, colleges, and other stakeholders, where “return” refers to financial savings from reduced cost of attendance and time to completion, or increased revenue to colleges from greater persistence and attainment?


RQ7: How many students and other stakeholders are impacted by the OER Degree Initiative?

RQ 8: What are best practices, facilitators, and barriers associated with implementation of OER degrees?

RQ9: What impacts do OER degrees have on key stakeholders’ experiences and on institutional culture?