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U Texas System Task Force Charged with Making College More Affordable

closeup of calculating the cost of college

A new task force with provosts, library directors, faculty and students at the University of Texas System will spend the next year sorting out ways to make college more affordable. According to reporting in the Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin, goals for the group include performing a "systemwide environmental scan" to uncover affordable learning resources already in use and to produce recommendations for increasing the adoption of open educational resources (OER) by faculty.

The work is being co-chaired by Rebecca Karoff, an associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the system level, and Dean Hendrix, dean of libraries for the University of Texas at San Antonio. That institution has already been recognized, alongside UT-Arlington, for its use of open educational resources.

According to the reporting, 70 faculty in San Antonio have adopted OER in their courses. Now the university is studying how that adoption has affected student success. The school provides faculty grants to help instructors convert their courses to the use of the free and low-cost curriculum, holds faculty workshops to help them understand the process and recognizes educators who have gone the extra mile with OER as "faculty textbook heroes." Among those heroes is Rita Mitra, an associate professor who has curated instructional materials and assessments from open access and library-subscription content for an online cybersecurity course, saving her students a total of $20,720 each semester; and Lorenzo Brancaleon, associate professor in physics and astronomy, who has replaced the primary textbook in his sections of one physics course with a free one from OpenStax, saving his students $18,690 each semester.

"While designing and developing the ... cyber curriculum, I have had the opportunity to review existing resources across the field," said Mitra in a statement. "Moving toward open access instructional materials brings several benefits. It allows for flexibility and quick adaptation of materials to align with the rapidly evolving nature of the field, current events, and updated tools with which students must be familiar upon graduation. I also believe that course quality will be higher with a more hands-on and cyclical approach to curation among our faculty. Another important factor is the critical need to provide high-quality virtual cyber labs, which are often expensive. We can offset this cost through lower-cost or no-cost textbooks."

Karoff emphasized that any recommendations put forward by the task force won't force instructors to adopt OER or any other learning innovations if they don't want to. However, she told reporter Savana Dunning, "When you adopt open educational resources, there's a huge return on investment that's really very directly calculated. You can actually determine how much money you're saving students when faculty adopt these open resources, and that's a pretty cool thing."

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