Impact Stories

OER Saving Nursing Students Money on Books and Improving Success at Chippewa Valley Technical College

Open Education


Demand is growing for nurses and nursing assistants to serve in the healthcare sector. There has been a nursing shortage for several years, and it’s predicted to worsen as the Baby Boomers age.The COVID-19 pandemic stretched the healthcare workforce and further increased the need for more qualified nursing staff.  

Students interested in studying nursing often face financial hurdles, including the high cost of textbooks. This can especially be a problem for students from low-income households. In the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), about 1 in 5 of its nearly 250,000 students is economically disadvantaged, according to the most recent student data fact book.

For students who want to serve in this vitally important field, the financial hurdles are among the highest of any program. The nursing associate degree program ranks as one of the most expensive programs at Wisconsin technical colleges with textbooks costing students an average of $1,307 during the course of their program.


In 2019, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) in Eau Claire received a $2.5 million federal grant to develop five OER textbooks and 25 virtual reality scenarios for nursing logo for Open RN, Open Resources for Nursing with an open book imposed over a globestudents. The Open RN project solicited input from faculty, nursing students, and industry partners to ensure the materials reflected the most relevant and accurate information. CVTC collaborated with other institutions in the state WTCS consortium to produce the digital textbooks, which were published by Pressbooks, accessible online or in downloadable formats.

Faculty can easily remix the textbooks and customize the material through LibreTexts. For students who prefer print, affordable copies are published by XanEdu and available in college bookstores and on Amazon.

Five Open RN textbooks over a blue background

The first OER textbook, Nursing Pharmacology, was completed in fall 2020; Nursing Skills came out in May 2021 and Nursing Fundamentals in fall 2021. The final two open textbooks (Mental Health & Community Concepts and Management & Professional Concepts) are slated for release in the fall 2022.

Through a separate stream of grant funding, the OpenRN project is also developing an OER Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) assistant digital textbook.


The OER nursing textbooks have been adopted by 67 course sections saving 1,250 students nearly $193,000 through the academic year 2020-21. Once all five books are completed and rolled out in courses across the state, it’s anticipated that students will save  $1.5 million each year, according to Vince Mussehl, director of library services and Open RN lead librarian at CVTC.

The CNA textbook is expected to reach as many as 7,800 students, saving them $650,000 a year.

In addition to the financial boost, early indications are that students are performing better using the new digital textbooks and like the quality.

There was a 5 percent improvement in student success in sections of pharmacology courses that used the new OpenRN learning materials, says Kim Ernstmeyer, project director. The first three OpenRN books received OER Awards for Excellence, which helped spread the word internationally about the value of the materials, she says.

A feedback survey showed students liked the OER book’s ease of use, navigation to credible resources, and learning activities that help them apply the knowledge to patient care, Ernstmeyer adds.

To educate faculty about how to create and use open resources, Mussehl launched OER 101 in January 2020. More than 200 faculty from all over the country have participated in the free online course. Surveys of the first year cohort revealed participants were saving their student more than $500,000 a year in textbook cost. “This is making a big difference for everyone, not just nursing students,” Mussehl says. “Because of this effort, other colleges have been saving their students money, learning about OER and understanding the benefits of open education.”

To learn more about Open RN and CVTC Affordable Learning, visit their website here.

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