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Open-educational degrees earn $9.8 million boost

Full-time community college students spend about $1,300 a year on textbooks
University Business, August 2016
Out in front with OER: Tidewater Community College created the first degree program—in business administration—to use only open-educational resources.
Out in front with OER: Tidewater Community College created the first degree program—in business administration—to use only open-educational resources.

A few dozen community colleges will get financial backing to design degree programs based wholly on free, open educational resources (OER) in a sweeping effort to make higher ed more affordable. 

Full-time community college students spend about $1,300 a year on textbooks, ultimately representing about a third of the cost of their associate's degrees, says Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream, the community college reform organization spearheading the $9.8 million OER initiative.

Research has also found that students who don’t complete are 50 percent more likely than are graduates to cite textbook costs as a major barrier.

In the 23-campus Virginia Community College System, about 100,000 students use open-educational resources. OER have saved students about $3 million on textbooks—but that’s not the only benefit, Chancellor Glenn DuBois said at a June news conference announcing the national initiative.

“Course completion rates have gone up, grades have gone up and it’s opened a whole new world of scholarship for faculty members to publish and be creative,” DuBois said.

Some 38 colleges in 13 states will participate in the three-year program, which could reach about 500,000 students. The institutions were chosen through a grant process, based on their ability to launch OER degrees.

Minorities are the majority at many of these institutions, which also serve high numbers of Pell-eligible and first-generation students, Stout says. 

The initiative will focus on four subjects in which extensive OER have been created: Business administration, general education, natural science and social science. 

Another goal is to inspire advancements in teaching methods and course design that will more deeply engage students, Stout says. In some cases, faculty will invite students to help create content. 

At Pierce College, Fort Steilacoom in the Seattle area, students lead the OER movement. They started a group called Textbook Revolution, and on Textbook Tuesdays, these students try to convince faculty members to adopt free materials.

“OER allow students to increase courses taken,” the college’s president, Denise Yochum, said at the press conference. “This provides the resources to continue our mission of access, student success and closing achievement gaps.” 

Resources developed during the initiative will be housed in a library open to other institutions and the general public. 

The $9.8 million in funding comes from a consortium 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. 

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