Exploring the Cost of Course Materials for Undergraduates: Toward an Affordable, Equitable Duke Education

Post by Ella Young, Research and Public Services InternCartoon illustration of people's hands holding up books, notebooks, and other printed materials.


In order to explore the true cost of a Duke undergraduate education, the Duke University Libraries are conducting a survey of teaching faculty to assess course materials costs for undergraduate students. By soliciting faculty responses, we seek to understand what types of materials are assigned in undergraduate courses across disciplines and their costs for students. The price of traditional textbooks and single-use online codes for homework has been rising for over 20 years, and students across the U.S. have reported struggling to afford their course materials alongside daily expenses. At Duke, if every undergraduate purchased every assigned textbook for their classes, they would cumulatively pay upwards of $1.4 million per academic year.

The Libraries plan to use data from the survey to assess how we can better support student access to course materials and to gauge interest in Open Educational Resources as a cost-effective alternative to traditional textbooks.  Surveying faculty about their interest in OERs moves Duke one step closer to implementing affordability initiatives and expanding OER availability on campus.

Have you taught an undergraduate course within the past 5 years? Click here to complete the survey!

What are Open Educational Resources (OERs)?

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are “openly-licensed, freely available educational materials that can be modified and redistributed by users” (The OER Starter Kit). This includes textbooks, searchable repositories, images, artwork, and even online college courses.

OERs benefit students by reducing college costs, and instructors can tailor OER to fit their needs. People who otherwise would not have access to college-level materials also can gain an education with open access materials.

How do OERs work?

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are copyright licenses that give users permission to reuse, distribute, remix, adapt, or build upon someone’s original material. All OERs are made available under some type of open license. There are six levels of license types with varying permissions, which you can explore here.

Learn more about OERs

To get started using Open Educational Resources, Duke Libraries has a guide to OERs with introductory information and links to open resources for instructors. For questions about OERs or how to make your courses accessible and affordable, contact Haley Walton, Librarian for Education and Open Scholarship, at the Duke University Libraries.

Open Education Week, a worldwide event for celebrating and promoting OERs, will take place this year the week of March 4th—8th. During OER Week, organizers across the globe will be hosting in-person and virtual events to showcase and discuss open education initiatives. A calendar of events can be found here.

We invite teaching faculty at Duke to click here to complete the survey!

All responses are anonymous.

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