When we speak with prospective clients or work with academic peers, they often tell us their top goal is to lower costs for students. Yet when we dive deeper into what students’ average cost is today and what their objective is, they are often unaware of their current metrics and don’t have a crisp definition of success.
They are also generally unaware of the choices that faculty and instructional designers have when selecting course materials. Whereas 20+ years ago there was only one choice -- hardcover textbook -- in new or used form, over the past two decades there has been a proliferation of content types which has made the landscape complicated but has also opened up new options for faculty, administrators and students to better reduce cost. Some of these options include Open Educational Resources (OER), Khan Academy, library content, rental programs, inclusive access (IA), eBooks, interactive courseware, and adaptive learning solutions powered by AI.
This has given rise to what we refer to as “The Spectrum of Course Materials”. As with most products, time has brought several options that are at different price points and arguably, have different levels of value. In theory, higher priced options should command premiums due to greater value (e.g. convenience for faculty or improved instructional value).
While value is something that is harder to assess, the price of course materials is easy to understand. Exceptions exist, but on a broad basis affordability moves from OER (which can be truly free to having some cost), through library purchased content (marginal cost is free to students), all the way to new hardcover textbooks, which tend to still be the highest cost on the spectrum.
For administrators whose primary focus is reducing costs while ensuring high quality, understanding the nuances surrounding each of these course materials is critical. They would do well to have an open discussion with faculty to both ensure a proper grounding in each others’ perspective. In many circumstances, there is value that is inherent to faculty that may not be well understood by administration. 
The positive upshot is that there are more ways than ever to accomplish the goals of an institution, but it requires care and thought and creating a comprehensive course content strategy.
Written by Raj Kaji, CEO Akademos and Dr. Andrew Shean, SVP/CAO National Education Partners and former ACAO Digital Fellow
 Hat tip for this blog post goes to Steven Bell as described in an interview to David Parker. I have built upon their thoughts for the purposes of the article. For additional information on Bell’s thinking as relayed to Parker, please go to: https://www.charleston-hub.com/2019/05/v312-blurring-lines-open-educational-resources-the-rise-of-the-library-and-navigating-the-spectrum-of-affordability/