May 16, 2024 | 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. | Memorial Hall

Title: ‘Equitable Access:’ An Existential Threat to OER Publishing and Adoption?


  • Kelly Smith (she/her), Director of Collections & Discovery, Eastern Kentucky University Libraries
  • Edna Fugate (she/her), Director of Library Services, University of Pikeville

Description: In response to the rising costs of textbooks and the need for equitable access to education materials, universities are increasingly adopting ‘Equitable Access’ textbook programs. Universities are increasingly adopting ‘Equitable Access’ textbook programs in which students pay the same predetermined fee based on credit hour load, regardless of what texts are assigned in their classes. Typical fees, negotiated by the universities, are around $25 per credit hour, meaning that a student taking a 15 credit load would see a semester fee of $375. For students in STEM or other fields who frequently pay over $600 per semester for texts, this is an obvious savings. For fine art majors, this fee is an unexpected expense.

The implications for students, faculty, and advocates of OER adoption and publication on campuses using ‘Equitable Access’ are numerous. The presenters, two librarians from Eastern Kentucky whose institutions both serve a high number of first generation and Pell-eligible students, will discuss these implications and offer insightful case studies from their respective institutions. In one, a small private college, the administration prioritized OER as a response to the move to online learning during Covid, and the emphasis on OER adoption has remained a policy. The other institution, a regional comprehensive university, has fully committed to an ‘Equitable Access’ approach, using institutional funds to cover book fees instead of billing students.

Finally, the presenters will engage the audience in a critical discussion of the ‘Equitable Access’ landscape. Does its marketing as ‘equitable’ conceal its underlying aim to guarantee vendor profits? What is its true impact on affordability and accessibility in higher education in comparison to OER approaches? Should the cost factor alone dictate our decisions, or should we also consider aspects such as quality, pedagogical potential, and other relevant factors?