June 14, 2016 11:46 pm

Pierce College has received a grant to create new degree programs using high quality open educational resources (OER). The OER Degree Initiative, which involves 38 community colleges in 13 states, is designed to help remove financial roadblocks that can derail students’ progress and spur improvements that will increase the likelihood of degree and certificate completion.

The annual cost of textbooks is about $1,300 per year for a full-time community college student – this amounts to about a third of the cost of an associate degree. This cost, research shows, is a significant barrier to college completion. Students who don’t complete college are over 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.

Equally important, using digital and interactive open educational resources such as open courseware will encourage faculty to teach students in more engaging and dynamic ways and invite students to become more actively involved in their own learning. The initiative’s requirement to create entire degree programs using OER also will 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.

Pierce College launched a complete OER Associate of Arts degree designed for our military program in 2015. To date, the college has had more than 3,000 course enrollments in the program, and saved students more than $300,000. Thanks to the OER Degree Initiative, the college will expand its use of OER to focus on a pre-nursing degree pathway.

“The OER Degree Initiative is so important for community and technical colleges, as it provides resources for us to continue our missions of access, student success, and closing achievement gaps among our students,” said Pierce College Fort Steilacoom President Denise Yochum. “The OER degree initiative provides 38 community and technical colleges technical resources, access to communities of practice and financial support for OER development, adoption and redistribution of quality educational experiences.”

Achieving the Dream, a national community college reform network, is managing the new OER Degree Initiative on behalf of 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.

The OER Degree Initiative will create a library of high-quality, digital, open courses available to other institutions and the public at large. Making resources easily available to all is expected to encourage OER adoption even at non-participating institutions.

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