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OER Resources Serve Needs of Underrepresented Students in Higher Education

by Marielisbet Perez / Jul 19, 2021

Initiatives to create open educational resources (OER) are on the rise to offer students a better educational experience without being burdened by high tuition fees and limited by expensive textbook costs.

The Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) recently released Fostering Access, Affordability, and Equity: A Primer on the Role of Open Educational Resources in Illinois Career and Technical Education, a report on the initiatives and value of OER at community colleges in Illinois. In the report, the authors talk about the increased cost of textbooks and its impact on students not being able to afford course materials, which affected their performance in their courses and overall well-being.

COVID-19 only added more financial and mental stress for students already struggling prior to the pandemic. In a study of 36,602 students (54 colleges and universities in 26 states; 39 two-year colleges and 15 colleges/universities), Goldrick-Rab et al. (2020) examined how COVID-19 impacted students. When colleges campuses were mandated to close across the U.S., many students lost their sense of security (jobs, housing, and meals). From one day to another, college students across the U.S. found themselves needing to find alternate shelter, which often results in hunger and homelessness.

In 2019, 60% of students attending community colleges reported struggling with housing insecurity, and 18% reported being homeless (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2020). During the pandemic, Goldrick-Rab et al. (2020) found food insecurity increasing from 42% to 56% for students enrolled at community colleges. One-third of students reported losing their job due to the pandemic. The top three racial-ethnic groups most affected in the Goldrick-Rab et al. study identified as Indigenous (74%), African American/Black (71%), and Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian (71%). Sixty percent of the students surveyed were parenting students (Goldrick-Rab, 2020).

Although colleges and universities are reinstating in-person learning sessions in the fall of 2021, many students are still struggling to recover from the crisis of COVID-19. Food and housing insecurities were a significant economic challenge for students prior to the pandemic and have gotten worse due to the crises during the past year. As a researcher of OER initiatives and practices serving the needs of underrepresented students (e.g., first-generation, nontraditional, parenting students, mature adult learners, women of color, limited-income individuals, and racial/ethnic groups) at two-year colleges, it is evident more research is needed in this area to understand how OER benefits underrepresented students enrolled at community colleges in Illinois.

The literature published does not clearly define OER’s initiatives and report what institutions in Illinois are using OER materials and the value of these materials for students. When it comes to underrepresented populations, there is no data to support the advantages of OER helping marginalized students and students with disabilities. Community colleges serve many students of diversity with economic and special needs. If OER offers students high-quality educational experiences that enhances teaching practices, learning resources, and innovative educational policies (Creative Commons, 2020a, 2020b), then more state and federal funds need to go toward research and access initiatives to help implement policies and practices to decrease the number of students struggling financially so they can attain their credentials and have their basic needs met while pursuing an education.


Creative Commons. (2020a). Open education. Author.

Creative Commons. (2020b). What we do. Author.

Goldrick-Rab, S., Coca, V., Kienzl, G., Welton, C. R., Dahl, S., & Magnelia, S. (2020). #RealCollege during the pandemic: New evidence on basic needs insecurity and student well-being. The Hope Center.

Perez, M., Del Real Viramontes, J., Yeo, H. T., Owolabi, N., & Zamani-Gallaher, E. M. (2021, June). Fostering access, affordability, and equity: A primer on the role of open educational resources in Illinois career and technical education. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.