The University of Arkansas Cossatot is a small community college in the southwest corner of Arkansas with approximately 1,400 students. Among two-year colleges in Arkansas, we lead in OER usage, but it didn’t happen overnight. It took collaboration between college administration, faculty, and staff to increase OER usage from 0 percent to 60 percent in five years.

With unwavering determination and dedication, UA Cossatot started the first internal textbook rental and OER program in Arkansas. For community colleges transitioning to OER, it doesn’t matter how big or small your college is–you can step up to eliminate some of the financial barriers that students face. We’ve learned a lot about open resources and Creative Commons, and we are eager to share our experience of how we created one of the most successful OER initiatives in Arkansas and went from 0 to 60 in five years.

2015: Starting at Zero (But With a Vision)

In early 2015, Chancellor Steve Cole asked me whether I could develop an internal textbook rental program. As the college’s director of educational resources and with administration’s full support, I spent the summer procuring textbooks, and we began renting textbooks for a fee of $30 per book each semester.  

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Textbooks weren’t our primary goal; introducing OER was our primary goal. We began offering faculty a $500 stipend to design their courses using OER. During the first year of our new program, instructors selected OER for 38 courses and stipends totaled $19,000. After only one year, UA Cossatot was 35% OER and students saved $360,053.54. In addition to becoming the first college in Arkansas to use an internal textbook rental program, we also led the state in OER usage among two-year colleges.

Initially, we planned to have faculty distribute textbook rentals, but to avoid conflict, I asked my staff at the Educational Resource Center (ERC) whether they could handle the program and they all agreed that since we were already handling the college’s library and tutoring program, we could easily add a third department. It worked really well because the ERC was such an active student area.

2018: Applying What We Learned from Open Organizations

In 2018, we became the first in Arkansas to join the Open Education Network (OEN). At that time, the OEN was still known as the Open Textbook Network (OTN). Now that we were a part of the OTN and had access to so many training opportunities, it was time to learn more about the Creative Commons, which is an open alternative to traditional copyright licensing.

I took an online course and completed the CC Certification Course in 2019, and we became the first institution in the state to have an OER specialist certified for specialization in open licensing through Creative Commons. It helped us to be able to provide better guidance for faculty. Just as I finished the Creative Commons training, I was selected to serve on the OEN Steering Committee for a two-year term. It was a great experience and we learned so much more about OER.

2019: Leveraging Grant Funds to Help Us Reach the Next Step

A jar full of coins

While we continued to lead Arkansas in OER usage, it was almost impossible to find funding since our faculty weren’t writing open textbooks but adopting existing OER. In 2019, we submitted a Title III SIP grant application. One of our goals is to improve retention and graduation rates by improving our Educational Resource Center, which is now a merger of four departments. We included OER in the grant narrative because it allows us to offer a more substantial incentive to encourage faculty to adopt OER. We also knew that my training needed to continue, as well as our commitment to encourage others to join the OER movement. On October 1st, 2020, we were notified that we were awarded a $2.2 million dollar Title III grant.

2021: Zooming Past 60!

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An OER instructor with her class at the Ed. Resource Center.

Today, 65% of our courses use OER only, and we maintain the highest OER usage among two-year colleges in Arkansas. Since our program launched in 2015, we’ve accomplished so much in the OER world, but our biggest achievement is that UA Cossatot students have saved nearly $2.5 million through our innovative textbook rental and OER program. 

If a small community college in the southwest corner of Arkansas can accomplish what we have with OER, then you can too. Building this program from the ground up has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done during my academic career. It is hard work, it is hectic, and it is time consuming, but seeing students’ faces when we tell them, “You don’t have to buy a book” makes it all worthwhile.

Relinda Ruth

Director of Educational Resources & OER Specialist, University of Arkansas-Cossatot

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