Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Gwen Evans. Gwen has been the Executive Director of OhioLINK, the Ohio Library and Information Network, since October of 2012. She was previously Associate Professor and Coordinator of Library Information and Emerging Technology at Bowling Green State University. Evans has 18 years of experience working in libraries, including the John Crerar Science Library at the University of Chicago, Mt. Holyoke College Library, and Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor. She received her MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, and has a Masters in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago, during which time she did two years of ethnographic research on the island of Flores, Indonesia.

OhioLINK is Ohio’s statewide academic library consortium, connecting print and digital collections among its 90 member institutions and managing statewide collaborative library and student success services. In October of 2018, I wrote two guest posts for The Scholarly Kitchen about OhioLINK’s statewide affordable textbook initiatives for higher education in the state of Ohio. Affordable Learning Ohio encompasses Open Educational Resource (OER) support and advocacy, as well as statewide pricing for commercial textbooks, and use of library materials as textbook replacements whether acquired and shared at the consortial level or on individual campuses.

A multi-pronged approach including commercial textbooks and OER allowed us to secure the best possible commercial pricing for students at our member institutions, provide quality content and academic choice for individual faculty members, and simultaneously encourage and support the development of OER initiatives at our 90 member institutions.

Little more than a year later, we now have preliminary data that illustrate some features of each major initiative, and demonstrate the value of using a hybrid approach.*

Biggest Takeaway – OER adoption results in the biggest cost reduction for students; inclusive access scales much faster to reduce costs for more students across more disciplines in more institutions. A hybrid approach has more impact at scale.

Female student searching for books in the book store

Recap of OhioLINK Initiative

OhioLINK struck price agreements (not content purchases) at the statewide level for inclusive access commercial textbooks and courseware. We provided a network-wide communication plan for inclusive access information and opportunities, leveraged our excellent negotiating skills, and were able to include almost all of Ohio’s higher education institutions in one agreement.

At the same time, OhioLINK is promoting statewide OER adoption by providing an OER platform (a customized instance of OER Commons) and expertise as a member of the Ohio Open Ed Collaborative, funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Ohio Department of Higher Education. A coalition of institutions and higher education faculty, librarians, researchers and instructional designers developed 23 OER course packs to enhance existing OER material, add new OER assets, promote adoption, and assess use.

Preliminary verified current savings from Fall 2018, Spring 2019 and Fall 2019


table showing results

Note: These figures only represent centrally organized or initiated programs and advocacy in which OhioLINK was directly involved or was the organizing entity for activity. Many of our institutions have faculty that have adopted other OER materials on their own or have institutional programs that are not reported centrally to OhioLINK or the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

The hybrid approach resulted in dropping costs for over 90,000 students statewide for a total cost savings of over $14 million dollars in little more than a year.

Factors influencing the numbers

The Ohio Open Ed Collaborative OER initiative

As OER proponents know, there is a time lag in full integration into courses/adoption due to the time and effort involved in revising curriculum – the data we have now about adoption and savings to students thus relies only on the first and second cohort of available materials which were finished and made available in Summer/Fall 2018. We are expecting to add further adoption and savings data by Fall 2020 for new course packs just added. There will of course be continued cumulative savings in the classes which have already adopted OER materials.

The experience of one of the faculty members who worked on one of the course packs illustrates why OER adoption isn’t fast or simple and relies on extensive work beyond the creation or availability of any particular resource. “To date I have put an additional 98 hours into the course to create a smooth transition for students. This includes creating assignments, correcting content and structure, building out a Blackboard course, and reviewing all links. Over the next two months we will create lecture videos for each lesson, tutorial videos for larger assignments/projects, and create a test bank. This is a massive project that is beyond the scope of the work we did for the state group project.” Faculty involved in this project report similar investments in time and effort. As Assistant Dean Kelly Broughton at Ohio University noted (personal email), “initiatives like Alt-Text and OER creation are curriculum reform projects not “adoption” projects – any change in the textbook (library material, OER, or a different commercial textbook) requires instructors to revise their classes, and the more radical the substitution, the longer the time and work involved….faculty are not complaining about the time and effort involved – just noting it as a necessary component of OER incorporation.”

Thus, OER initiatives by their nature are somewhat lengthier and depend very much on individual faculty, departmental, or institutional efforts and commitment, as well as the support available on any given campus in terms of instructional design, release time, incentives, etc. Practices such as adopting textbooks at the departmental level, not the individual faculty level, can also influence the scale of OER impact at an institution.

Inclusive Access and Commercial Textbook Discounts

OhioLINK initially signed price agreements in 2018 with Cengage, MacMillan, McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson, Sage, and Wiley. We renewed the second round of price agreements for 2019 with all but Wiley based on our analyses of competitive pricing for inclusive access against the new, used, and rental market nationally. OhioLINK held two events for institutions meant to disseminate information, allow institutions to share practical and policy information, and give feedback to publishers.

Since the start of Fall 2018 when we started promoting the statewide pricing agreements, inclusive access adoption in OhioLINK member institutions rose by over 400% over a year. An instructor from one institution noted, “I teach an online course with over 450 students. As a result, I’m often hesitant to implement changes that could cause confusion. Inclusive Access helped my students begin coursework by removing the delays and uncertainty surrounding obtaining a textbook. It reduced my email load and helped me focus on the more meaningful course preparation details in the first weeks. The time saved means I will continue to adopt Inclusive Access in future semesters.”

General Observations and Lessons Learned

OhioLINK’s experience with both OER and inclusive access support may help other organizations and states interested in textbook affordability at scale and speed. Organizing events that allowed information sharing between institutions on OER, inclusive access, and library-led initiatives, as well as engaging in centralized efforts that fed a pragmatic, “on-the-ground” information flow from institutions back to the Ohio Open Ed Collaborative and to the Ohio Department of Higher Education, turned out to be a winning combination in terms of impact and information gathering. We hope to use these experiences to further encourage and support textbook affordability efforts in our 90 institutions.

  • The most effective, rapid, comprehensive efforts to address textbook affordability came from effective coalitions on campuses. Leadership or the point person for these efforts came from a variety of places – the library, the bookstore, instructional design units, administration champions, or from individual faculty members.
  • A willing and enthusiastic bookstore manager was key for rapid, smooth implementation. It didn’t matter whether the bookstore was a chain or independent store – there were real campus partnerships formed and real reluctance and unwillingness from both types of stores.
  • OhioLINK had to do more mediating between publishers, individual bookstores, and librarians than we expected after our inclusive access agreements. Our most common message delivered multiple times and backed up by the publishers, was that no, individual bookstores (chain or independent) did not and could not negotiate lower base [net to publisher] prices than OhioLINK prices by the terms of our contracts, which was a common and inaccurate claim on individual campuses. Bookstore retail markup, which varies widely campus by campus, caused the most confusion.
  • Anecdotally, faculty and support service staff agreed that campuses that offered more subject expert support (e.g., from the library or instructional design) to faculty saw more and faster adoption across the institution.
  • Because publishers can get accurate adoption information from bookstores, it was much easier to track data and savings on inclusive access. OER integration and cost savings is much harder to gather and is best supported by a campus-wide commitment that is well-organized and gathered programmatically.
  • In Ohio, excellent cost savings is coming from the grant funded OER initiative, and if the faculty and institutions continue to use the same no-cost materials for at least a few years, the return on investment in savings for students will increase rapidly, even if adoption remains modest in terms of institutions and number of courses. In the first year of implementation, the savings are already nearing three times the investment.
  • Inclusive access spread the savings over a much wider demographic of students, and was much faster to implement at scale.
  • Hybrid approaches that included OER, library materials, and inclusive access efforts on a single campus seemed to gain faster traction as they offered more options for faculty members.

What’s Next?

OhioLINK is preparing for the third round of negotations on price agreements for textbooks; we will continue monitoring inclusive access agreements with commercial textbook publishers as long as those continue to provide value to our students. As the grant winds down, OhioLINK is determining how it can support the sustainability of the OER materials created through the Ohio Open Ed Collaborative. We are incorporating the OER materials created by Columbus State Community Colleges into the Ohio Open Course Content Library and plan to add more institutions’ material to increase findability and integration into a widely used and visible OER repository. We will continue to gather cost savings data for both inclusive access and OER adoption on behalf of our membership and our parent agency. In addition, we are working to identify specific barriers to OER adoption and make some recommendations for practical measures to address them.


* For a lengthier recap of our two year initiative, see Bendo and Evans, “OhioLINK’s Affordable Learning Initiatives – Making a Collaborative Commitment to Affordability for Students.”

Gwen Evans

Gwen served as the Executive Director of OhioLINK, the Ohio Library and Information Network from 2012 to 2020. She is now Vice President, Global Library Relations, Elsevier.


16 Thoughts on "Guest Post — An Update to OhioLINK’s Affordable Textbooks Initiative"

Seems to me you are attacking the wrong problem!
A more recent study shows that the average student now spends almost $900 per year on booze and only $450 on books. The average college student is drunk for 10.6 hours each week.Oct 27, 2017
http://www.party0.org › how-much-college-students-spend-alcohol
How Much College Students Spend on Alcohol – Party.0

Flippancy does a great disservice to the many, many students struggling with college affordability, which disproportionately affects first generation college students. I personally have talked to students who made extreme sacrifices and hard choices regarding textbooks. As an example, I recently spoke to a former student who said that she used to go to the bookstore and stand in the aisle and read a chapter at a time. We’re addressing a real problem.

I would suggest this reading material instead: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Students-Are-Spending-Less-on/235340 or https://dlss.flvc.org/documents/210036/1314923/2018+Student+Textbook+and+Course+Materials+Survey+Report+–+FINAL+VERSION+–+20190308.pdf/07478d85-89c2-3742-209a-9cc5df8cd7ea

I am not deliberately being flippant. How one spends one’s money is a matter of choice. Why isn’t there an outcry over the cost of booze? Why isn’t there a move to control the cost of booze and in so doing allow for spending on books and other educational materials which I believe is part and parcel of a college education! I can add that the cost of a phone is more than the cost of books. One would not want to be denied facebook or twitter!
The cost of books occurs all at once and thus seems very high while the cost of a six pack occurs over time and seems insignificant. Thus, the hue and cry about books and not beer!
An anecdotal example of one student is not evidence, at least to me. Did you query the student on just how she spent her money?
Lastly, I agree with Mr. Daugherty.

While I applaud your efforts, inclusive access may not be the money saver publishers claim. Simply put, all choice is removed from the consumer. Prices, while negotiated, are set by the publisher. This generally results in less competition and higher overall prices paid by the consumer. You have already pointed out problems in OER, publishers add value to content through the work done to provide teaching material, test banks and updates. Your efforts and time will have to continue, unrewarded, for OER’s to continue being viable year after year.

The introduction mentions a 3-pronged approach –
“Affordable Learning Ohio encompasses Open Educational Resource (OER) support and advocacy, as well as statewide pricing for commercial textbooks, and use of library materials as textbook replacements…”
– but the remainder of the post focuses only on the first two. Why is the library materials approach not analyzed here?

We have data readily available on both the statewide OER grant (recipients are mandated to report), and our inclusive access implementation. It is harder to find complete data on how many individual instructors in Ohio are using library resources and how much money they are saving their students. We know of individual examples, but we do not have a complete picture. A statewide, comprehensive mandate to share data on course materials and cost does not exist at this point.

I used to be a college rep in Missouri and parts of Illinois. There were school that had a textbook rental system. The school bought the books and the students rented them for a nominal fee. To save money they seldom changed books and in fast moving sciences they were only 5 to 7 years out of date. Of course that was OK in Missouri where only 29% of the population believe in evolution!
Why doesn’t Ohio put such a system in place and really save the student the burden of paying for books – a semester costs about $140,

It is about time. It has been the bane of the business since at least 1970.

Or it will force students to “loan” to each other. Or buy the foreign version of the textbook. Inclusive access may have unintended consequences.

Of course, every approach to textbook pricing and access will have unintended consequences.

I’m very skeptical about the “verified current savings” given for inclusive access. Does this account for the normal trend where students “loan” their textbooks to each other? What about the trends where students borrow textbooks from their library or get used books? What about monopoly power and price sustainability with that publisher?

If memory serves, the student will get a password to download the text but not be able to print it. the student will be charged for the download.

The initiatives are interesting. But, they require great amounts of time and commitment on behalf of the professor whose job at the top state institutions is dependent on scholarly publication and at state level schools handling many students without teaching assistant help. Thus, the time needed to develop innovative courses is not there. Additionally, there is no institutionalized incentive to develop innovative courses.

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