3 Institutional Policy

State mandates are not the only way that open and affordable course marking practices arise. Institutional-level policy can initiate or influence course marking practices, and its implementation can even preempt the need for regulation by the state. Adoption of institutional policy may be top-down, such as from a state system office, or it may be driven by local factors. This chapter will explore institutional policy at different levels. For the purposes of this chapter, we will use the term “policy” loosely to apply to any framework that guides action, whether that is a formal institutional policy, published guidelines, or technical changes to systems and forms. We will explore examples of how institutional policies come about and some common areas for consideration.

Locally Driven Policy

State mandates are not required to prompt open and affordable course markings. In fact, the first institutions to adopt course marking policies did so voluntarily. Maricopa County Community College District is widely recognized as the first college system to incorporate a search functionality for students to filter offerings on the course schedule based on no-cost or low-cost materials status. The district’s policy, adopted in 2014, arose from recognition that students were already choosing courses based on textbook costs, using the information made available in the course schedule under federal textbook price disclosure requirements. The district simply decided to make the search for this information easier on students. A profile in Inside Higher Ed states

[A]dministrators knew that students were mining the course schedule for classes that use OER materials, so they created a highly visible search filter that allowed learners to easily see which courses had no-cost and low-cost materials. (Goodman 2017)

The case studies included in Part VII offer multiple examples of locally driven policies. Nicolet College, for example, adopted course marking practices out of a mandate from the college president to explore OER initiatives. Multiple institutions, including Central Virginia Community College, Houston Community College, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, adopted course marking alongside efforts to establish zero textbook cost (ZTC) degree pathways, or Z-Degrees, as a practical means of helping students identify which courses participate. Locally driven policies may be influenced by larger efforts, such as college affordability initiatives or participation in national projects, such as Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative, a program that seeks to boost college access and completion through the redesign of courses and degree programs by replacing proprietary textbooks with open educational resources (OER).

State-System-Level Policy

Another avenue for the adoption of course marking policies, in addition to state mandates and local initiatives, are policies driven at the public university system level. Here the system level refers to a number of campuses represented in a state consortium. For example, the State University of New York (SUNY) is a system of campuses across the state of New York and decisions made at the SUNY system level impact all 64 campuses within. While not grounded in law, system-wide policies often have a similar effect at prompting institutions to initiate compliance.

For example, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents as part of the chancellor’s strategic priority for Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) recommended a course marking requirement to begin in the 2018/19 academic year. The course marking requirement is being implemented with support from ALG, which has formalized the policy through two avenues: an online set of administrative guidelines and a set of technical specifications for implementation in Banner.

In Fall 2018, University System of Georgia (USG) institutions will be required to prominently designate sections of courses whose course materials exclusively consist of no-cost (open or free textbooks) or low-cost course materials at the point of registration. (Affordable Learning Georgia 2020)

Another system-level example is the Connecticut State College and University System (CSCU), which represents 17 state institutions. The system is piloting a system-wide marking policy for “No or Low Cost (NoLo)” text-based course materials. While marking is based only on cost, the communications about the policy frame it as part of the system’s OER efforts as NoLo materials are typically OER. Some of the 17 CSCU campuses had already implemented NoLo markings voluntarily before the policy was adopted. A common requirement across all campuses has the potential to streamline implementation. According to the system’s NoLo information website,

Courses marked as “NoLo” contain text-based materials that are no cost or low cost, and will not exceed $40. Check course descriptions for the “NoLo” tag to take advantage. NoLo = Total Course Materials <= $40. College and course participation may vary. (CSCU Open Educational Resources, n.d.)

The case studies for both the City University of New York and the State University of New York offer explorations of university system-level roll-outs. Both of these examples were driven from the system level, but had some connection to large state-level investments in OER from the New York governor’s office. While no state law was attached to govern implementation of this funding, the systems adopted course marking as one pathway to implementation of the broader goal concerning textbook affordability.


As open and affordable resource use continues to grow and evolve, it is important for institutions to respond accordingly. Even the best written policy with all factors of an institution’s culture referenced, does nothing without implementation. The institution’s community and administration need to understand why open and affordable resources use is important and how course markings align with the institution’s mission and vision. Implementation often faces challenges such as awareness, discoverability, usability, and incentives. It is advisable for institutions to invest in awareness-raising activities among their local and regional government officials, other academics, and other key stakeholders to explore the emerging legal, economic, and educational issues involved with open and affordable resource marking and usage—whether or not it is in response to a legal mandate.

Policy implementation intersects with many of the steps that are explored throughout this book. Faculty and staff need guidance on how to make course marking decisions related to their materials and their courses overall. They need to understand the differences between open, low-cost, and no-cost materials. Offices dealing with marked courses, such as the office of the registrar and the campus bookstore need to be educated on how to work with their individual technical systems so proper labels are displayed and searchable. They also need to be trained in how to answer questions accurately and consistently. Finally, students need to understand what these markings mean—for their course load and their finances—and how to search for various courses in their registration system. Engagement and understanding is the key to success, which is explored in Part II (Stakeholders).



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Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies Copyright © 2020 by Breeman Ainsworth; Nicole Allen; Jessica Dai; Abbey Elder; Nicole Finkbeiner; Amie Freeman; Sarah Hare; Kris Helge; Nicole Helregel; Jeanne Hoover; Jessica Kirschner; Joy Perrin; Jacquelyn Ray; Jennifer Raye; Michelle Reed; John Schoppert; and Liz Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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