Success Story: Mercy College

Mercy College’s “Free and Better” Open Educational Resources Boost Student Achievement in Math

Primary Goal

Address persistent problems with first-year student achievement in math courses using open educational resources (OER).


After a successful OER Pilot in College Algebra, Mercy College instructors found OER was “free and better” for math education. The College now teaches all sections of the course using OER-based MyOpenMath, supported by Lumen Learning.


  • 42% more students passing: Over three semesters, passing rates with a C or better jumped from 48% to 69%, a 42% improvement after the transition to OER.
  • More than $100,000 in recurring cost savings: Free digital access to textbooks and an online homework system saves students an estimated $125,000 per year.
  • Fewer failing students: Nearly 10% fewer students failed the course after OER adoption.
  • 100% access on day 1: Students can freely access all course materials from the first day of class, allowing them to engage in the learning process immediately.
  • Lower cost, better outcomes: OER-based courseware is free to students and better for student learning.
  • Rapid adoption: Mercy’s great pilot experience garnered sufficient support to shift all sections to OER just one semester after the pilot.


Like many institutions, Mercy College has struggled with first-year student achievement. Seeking ways to improve incoming students’ performance in math, Mercy College joined a Lumen-directed grant project to develop and adopt OER-based courses at institutions serving at-risk students.

Free textbooks were a huge draw for the project initially. But soon, “free and better” became a watchword among instructors exploring whether freely available, OER-based math content would also lead to better learning outcomes. “Free” alone was not enough to justify a switch.

During spring 2012, Mercy College faculty piloted an OER-based College Algebra course designed through the grant project. This course “flipped” the classroom, using online videos to supplement in-person instruction. Instructors could then focus class time on trouble spots and individual outreach. Instructors saw this approach strengthening students’ confidence and boosting basic math skills. Additionally, it gave all students free access to the textbook and online homework system.


Not surprisingly, learning outcomes improved. The number of individuals failing the course fell by nearly 10%. Retention and student engagement increased, along with passing rates.

The following fall, the College shifted all 27 sections of College Algebra to OER, extending the advantage of open courseware to nearly 700 students, with total estimated textbook cost savings of more than $125,000 in the first year.  Over three semesters, passing rates (with a C or better) rose from 48% to 69%. Building on this success, Mercy College is now in the process of transitioning more math courses to OER to further boost students’ success.

According to Linda Casper, assistant professor of mathematics at Mercy College, institutional leaders are extremely pleased with the shift to open educational resources coupled with courseware support from Lumen Learning. “Our students are significantly more successful, and our faculty members are very comfortable with the new tools and materials. Our students have so many other challenges to navigate, that wherever we can make the path to learning easier, we must be willing to make these kinds of improvements.”

Mercy College Profile

  • New York metropolitan area
  • Private, non-profit
  • 11,000 students
  • Minority-serving
  • Adult and non-traditional learner focus


Learn More

EDUCAUSE Review Case Study

Read more about Mercy College’s OER adoption process in EDUCAUSE Review.

Video: How OER Changes the Learning Experience

Mercy College faculty member Linda Casper discusses how students respond to College Algebra redesigned using open educational resources.