38 community colleges in 13 states will join a national OER initiative to cut costs while improving degree, certificate completion

A major new community college initiative will work to develop degree programs using open educational resources (OER) in an effort to ease textbook-related financial obstacles students often face in higher education.

The national community college reform network Achieving the Dream announced the initiative on June 14, and representatives said they hope it will spur other changes in teaching and learning and course design that will increase the likelihood of degree and certificate completion.

Achieving the Dream will help colleges make OER degrees critical elements of their student success efforts. Lumen Learning will provide technical assistance; SRI International will evaluate the initiative and conduct research on how OER degrees impact student success and the institutions providing them; and the Community College Consortium of Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) will facilitate a community of practice.

At the completion of the initiative, all approved OER courses will be available through a comprehensive online platform.

“This initiative will help further transform teaching and learning in the nation’s community colleges,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Extensive use of OER will enable students to have access to more dynamic learning tools and a richer academic experience at a cost that will help more students complete their studies.”

The annual costs of textbooks are about $1,300 per year for a full-time community college student and amount to about a third of the cost of an Associate’s degree. This cost, research shows, is a significant barrier to college completion. Students who don’t complete college are more than 50 percent more likely than those who graduated to cite textbook costs as a major financial barrier, according to a study by the research firm Public Agenda.

Next page: One state’s experience using open resources

Using digital and interactive OER such as open courseware will encourage faculty to teach students in more engaging and dynamic ways, and also will invite students to become more actively involved in their own learning.

The initiative’s requirement to create entire degree programs using OER also should trigger a careful re-examination of course content and sequencing to build up-to-date, cohesive degree programs. These degrees will be available to a minimum of 76,000 students over a three-year period.

The effort is intended to spark more rapid OER adoption within higher education, beginning with community colleges. Today, there are enough open educational materials to replace textbooks in required courses in four two-year programs: business administration, general education, natural or general science, and social science. But only a few colleges are using those resources. There also is a significant body of OER in computer science.

The OER Degree Initiative will create a library of high-quality, digital, open courses available to other institutions and the public at large.

“Through the OER Degree Initiative, these community colleges are simultaneously addressing two important challenges faced by educators and students: Not only will they provide their faculty the flexibility and academic freedom to align their open educational resources to curriculum objectives, but also, by lowering textbook costs, they will make it far more likely that their students will achieve the goal of attaining a degree,” said Barbara Chow, education program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Courses and professional development will have to be redesigned and updated to reflect OER use.

“Colleges involved in the effort will need to integrate OER into their course redesign processes and update professional development to prepare instructors to use open, digital content most effectively,” said David Wiley, an international expert on OER and Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning, a key partner in the initiative. “Over the next three years, colleges will create systems and structures that better connect curriculum and pedagogy to what students need to learn to be successful in academic disciplines and the workplace.”

The initiative’s $9.8 million in funding comes from a consortium of investors that includes the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, the Shelter Hill Foundation, and the Speedwell Foundation.

State OER results

Colleges and states that have introduced OER initiatives have already seen significant results.

“Some of Virginia’s community colleges have led the way in using OER content exclusively,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s community college system. “Studies of our institutions have shown that OER reduces costs and contributes to better grades, higher course completion rates, and faster degree completion.”

Tidewater Community college, for example, was the first community college to adopt an OER degree which enables students to complete a two-year degree in business administration with no textbook costs. Tidewater’s “Z-Degree” program has experienced high student satisfaction levels, improved student retention, and an estimated 25 percent reduction in college costs for students (tuition and books).

Northern Virginia Community College’s pilot OER courses have increased pass rates by nine percent compared to non-OER courses.

A recent multi-school study found that students using OER took an average fall semester credit load of 13.3, compared to 11.1 credits for students using traditional books. If this holds, students would complete their degrees a full year earlier for a 60 credit-hour degree.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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