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June 18, 2020

Magnifying the Impact of College Promise through Open Educational Resources

This blog post is part of a series of introductions for our College Promise Policy Briefs, which aim to critically analyze Promise related research and program experiences in order to offer recommendations for actions or evidence-based policies to leaders of the College Promise movement.

This week, Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., founder and CEO of ISKME, writes on Magnifying the Impact of College Promise through Open Educational Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic is making it more difficult for millions of students to access and afford higher education. But even before the pandemic, in a period with high employment, the gap between what students can earn and the total costs of their education made it difficult for today’s community college students to pay their way through school. According to the Center on Workforce Development at Georgetown University, most students work in sales and food-service jobs that pay only about $15,800 annually – enough to cover community college tuition but not enough to cover the rest of their needs, including housing, childcare, and textbooks, all of which pose significant – and potentially insurmountable – obstacles for students in completing their studies. These hurdles are not only limited to community college students; the difficulties of covering college costs are just as true for university students.

College Promise programs are a crucial means to help address this challenge. These programs typically consist of efforts that offer recent high school graduates a scholarship paying up to 100 percent of tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions, lifting that burden and allowing students’ limited resources to be redirected toward living expenses and out-of-pocket costs.

These programs have had success in delivering greater access to higher education but can be strengthened further by incorporating solutions that address other student needs.

One such solution is Open Education Resources (OER) – freely available, openly licensed textbooks, videos, interactives, and primary source material for individual courses and even entire degree programs – to both offset the cost of textbooks, and to introduce more dynamic teaching and relevant course materials. Some community colleges and College Promise programs are already taking steps to incorporate these free resources, and research indicates that this can save full-time community college students a significant portion of the $700 to $1,300 per year they pay for textbooks, the costs for which have increased by 73 percent since 2006 – more than four times the rate of inflation. With the cost of an individual textbook reaching $200, $300, or even $400 per book, half of community college students report using financial aid for books compared to 28 percent of students at four-year public institutions. As a result, “Last dollar” Promise programs, which provide funding only after the sources of aid as Pell Grants are exhausted, limit opportunities for community college students to use financial aid to cover textbook costs in many places. When students turn to loans to pay for books, interest and other fees only add to the disproportionate impact of textbook costs on low-income students, which in turn contribute to other affordability issues, including housing and food insecurity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of community college students report dropping out of one or more classes because they cannot afford the textbooks. Nearly half of all college students report that textbook prices impact which and how many courses they can take, and two-thirds say they have skipped buying a textbook because of cost.

A growing number of institutions – and some Promise Programs – are recognizing the impact of textbook costs on access and attainment. Introducing the use of OER represents a significant opportunity to magnify the impact of these efforts while affirming their institutions’ commitment to affordability, access, and quality.

Getting Started with Open Education Resources

Just as Promise programs reflect the context of their state and local environments, OER implementation may look very different from institution to institution. Stakeholders can explore the potential benefits of OER adoption by:

  1. Investigating OER policies in your state, which may include statewide coordinating councils, libraries or repositories, grant programs that can support OER creation and adoption, resources for course and program conversions to OER, regulations about labeling no or low-cost courses in course descriptions or registration materials, and research or feasibility studies. The state policy tracker in the resources below may serve as a starting point.
  2. Because faculty have the ability to adapt and tailor materials to meet local learning objectives, OER are particularly well suited for community colleges, whose missions are focused on meeting their specific regional workforce and learning needs. The collaborative process of curating and adapting OER materials for local needs also empower faculty, improving teaching and learning within institutions.
  3. Identifying – or creating – grant programs and funding opportunities to support institutional and faculty pilots of OER materials. Connecting administrators and faculty to other institutions and organizations supporting OER adoption, such as the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources.
  4. Educating administration, faculty, students, and other stakeholders about OER and its benefits by holding workshops, presenting faculty awards, and inviting OER experts to present on campus.
  5. Ensuring that OER materials are accessible for students with disabilities.

For more information on Open Education Resources and its impact on College Promise programs, read the full policy brief.

Lisa Petrides, Ph.D. is founder and CEO of ISKME, a global nonprofit that inspires, supports, and convenes educators to embrace the practice of Open Education. Petrides is a scholar and international open educational resources (OER) expert who has helped lead the development of tools and strategies to create and support the field of open educational practice. Her work includes the creation of ISKME's award winning OER Commons, a digital public library of open educational resources and collaboration platform that facilitates the discovery and improvement of high-quality digital resources that are free, openly licensed, and available for a diverse range of learners. ISKME also produces an international event dedicated to catalyzing education innovation, Big Ideas Fest. A former professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Columbia University, Teachers College, Petrides has advised and led development efforts that have enabled schools, colleges, universities, ministries of education, and the organizations that support them to expand  their capacity to use data and information, and create inclusive knowledge- driven environments focused on teaching and learning.

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