As we await the official RFP for the Open Educational Resources (OER) grant for 2020-2021, CUNY’s Office of Library Services has encouraged us to ask our campus faculty to start preparing grant proposals, with an expected quick turnaround.  The Library is entering year four of a five-year New York State grant to incentivize faculty development and use of OER to convert its courses into Zero-Textbook Cost (ZTC) courses, which ensures that course materials are freely accessible to students.  Over the past three grant cycles, we have already saved CSI students more than one million dollars in textbook costs by switching from proprietary textbooks to OER.

Studies have shown that OER helps to significantly raise student grades, and increase course completion and retention, since students have access to required readings from the start of the course because they are available at any time and from anywhere with an Internet connection. The use of OER supports equity and flexibility that is not just essential for access during this time, but in particular for low-income students who generally struggle with traditional textbook costs, which average $1,200 per year. OER is not just a social justice issue to which CUNY is committed, but a key component to student success.

Access to required readings is more important than ever as we navigate the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic during the next academic year. As plans for re-opening campus continue, most Library services, such as reference and instruction services, have successfully transitioned to the online environment, and a majority of our resources are and have always been available electronically, 24/7. However, this is not the case for print textbooks, which cannot be loaned for two-hour periods at the Library during the pandemic, nor are requests for new titles able to be processed while the facility is closed.  

Therefore, in addition to adopting OER, we also encourage faculty to consider assigning older editions of textbooks that can be purchased at a much lower cost, or recommend that faculty scan required chapters of their assigned textbooks and upload them into Blackboard for student access, using the guidance outlined by the CUNY Copyright Committee. Unfortunately, e-textbooks are not readily available for institutional licenses. This article from the University of Guelph discusses the same challenges we face in purchasing online alternatives.

We hope that you will consider transitioning your course materials from traditional textbooks to OER, and plan to take advantage of forthcoming funding by drafting a proposal in anticipation of the next OER grant cycle. For more information about OER and the grant, please visit our OER guide or contact OER Coordinator, Prof. Christina Boyle at:

By Amy F. Stempler