No-cost/low-cost schedule designations are an important way for students to make informed choices at the point of registration. Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission requested a research report evaluating the effectiveness of different implementations at Oregon’s colleges and universities, as required by HB 2871, passed in 2015. The report was completed in June 2018 by Brooke Freed, Amber Friedman, Sarah Lawlis, and Angie Stapleton as their Master of Public Administration Capstone at the University of Oregon School of Planning, Public Policy and Management.
Freed, Friedman, Lawlis, and Stapleton found that the cost of textbooks had an impact on academic decisions for over half of the students participating in their survey, underlining the importance of effective schedule designations. Yet very few students were aware of their college or university’s efforts to designate no-cost/low-cost courses in the schedule. The researchers offer four recommendations for best practices based upon their findings.
Use a simple icon or phrase that is easily understood (NOT OER!)
Oregon OER legislation allows institutions to use “OER” as designation for OER and other no-cost/low-cost course materials. Inventory of designations implemented across institutions found that some institutions use “OER” as a designation for OER and no-cost/low-cost courses without providing a definition of the term. With a low level of student awareness of the meaning of the term OER, using a simple icon or phrase to designate no-cost/low-cost materials would improve student ability to find and choose these courses.
Consistently designate no-cost/low-cost courses everywhere students search for classes and course materials, including at the bookstore
Students that participated in the survey and in group interviews shared a desire for OER/no-cost low-cost designations, that include both an easily identifiable icon and a short description, to be displayed in more than one location when searching for and registering for courses. Consistent designation across search platforms would likely improve student ability to identify and choose no-cost/low-cost courses.
Post required materials lists earlier, in time for registration
Most survey respondents who reported an awareness of no-cost/low-cost resources learned about them through their instructors. Some institutions do not require instructors to report OER courses prior to the registration deadline. This makes it difficult for students to choose courses based on no-cost/low-cost status prior to the first day of class or without emailing instructors. Student survey respondents and group interview participants reported that the timing of the availability of the course materials list is an important factor in selection of courses based on textbook costs, making posting of required materials prior to registration critical. Late course material reporting also limits bookstores’ ability to post designations in a timely manner for students purchasing books.
Consider adopting a uniform designation or icon across all 24 institutions
Currently, varying methods of designation and icons are used within and across each institution, which may contribute to the lack awareness by 74 percent of community college and 85 percent and university students of OER available at their institution. Uniform designations could contribute to an increased student awareness of OER and would make it easier for students moving between institutions (e.g. from a community college to a university) to find no-cost/low-cost courses.
See Report p. 16 for recommendations in context.