Impact Stories

Improving Student Success with OER: Georgia Highlands College

Open Education


Human Anatomy and Physiology is a high-enrollment course at Georgia Highlands College. As is the case with too many courses of this kind, it has also been subject to high failure rates. In 2014-15, the cost of tuition for the course was about $350, and the textbook cost another $200 to $300. Due to the unpredictable expense, many students waited until their financial aid was disbursed in order to purchase the textbook—often a few weeks into the semester—or simply didn’t purchase it at all.


In the fall of 2015, the faculty at GHC adopted an open textbook published by OpenStax for all their A&P courses. This decision reduced the cost of materials to zero for the course—which serves as a gateway to popular majors like nursing, which is in high demand by employers in the northwest Georgia area. 


Following the open textbook adoption, GHC’s success rates across all sections of A&P I and A&P II rose from 47.3% to 77.2% between 2014 and 2018.

“GHC’s faculty championed many interactive tools and modern teaching practices, such as OER, increasing student success by nearly 30 percentage points in some areas,” said Jesse Bishop, Dean for Planning, Assessment, Accreditation and Research.

Now, GHC has over 40 courses, with over 250 individual classes using OER. Faculty have been working hard to expand courses through open textbooks, as well as to provide additional free resources like Library Guides with openly licensed materials, according to Sarah Coakley, Dean of Natural Sciences and Associate Professor of Chemistry. 

GHC’s partnership with the University System of Georgia aims to make college more affordable and produces more career-ready graduates by reducing their student debt load. Of the roughly $4 million in savings publicized by the USG during the first year OER was introduced, GHC accounted for over half of that savings. In the last three years, GHC has saved students over $6 million by eliminating textbook costs and providing free digital options. Over the past three years, GHC has saved students roughly $2.2, $2.4, and $2.6 million respectively. 

This effort has been partially funded and supported by the USG’s Affordable Learning Georgia Textbook Transformation Grants. GHC plans to continue to offer OER and expand into as many areas and courses as possible moving forward.

For Tony Hernandez, a GHC student, taking a chemistry class over the summer was a challenge but using OER made a big difference. “It was very helpful having 24/7 access to the Library Guide,” he said. “It was like having my professor on speed dial at any time of day. I really appreciated being able to access the Library Guide from anywhere.”

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