It’s an all too common decision for some students
at the beginning of each semester: whether to buy
expensive textbooks or pay their rent. According
to the College Board, the annual cost for books and
supplies makes up nearly a third of the expense of
attending a community college. This is a significant barrier to entry for many would-be students
and also a reason some students don’t finish or
take longer to complete their degrees. Using open
educational resources (OER)—free, openly licensed
materials that can be adapted as needed—is one
way to lessen that burden.
Last year, Achieving the Dream (ATD) launched its
Open Educational Resources Degree Initiative, which
aims to expand the use of OER in community colleges
across the country. The $9.8-million program provides
grants to 38 colleges in 13 states—the largest OER
initiative to date. By the end of the three-year grant
period, the initiative is expected to make more than 50
OER degree programs available to 76,000 students.
“It’s really trying to make education equitable
to students,” says Richard Sebastian, director of the
initiative at ATD. “One of the goals is to build that
foundation of enough vetted, high-quality courses
to lower the bar for other community colleges to
adopt them.” The initiative is funded by 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.
A study of the initiative, released in June, found
that 84 percent of faculty surveyed said their students were as engaged or more engaged in their
OER courses as compared to courses taught with
traditional materials. Early research shows students
are saving an average of $134 per course at the colleges participating in the initiative.
Bay College in Escanaba, Michigan, is using the
grant to expand upon the OER work it had already
started. Since the fall 2015 semester, the college
estimates that it’s saved students more than
$200,000 in textbook costs.
“It’s really been a team effort throughout the whole
campus,” says Joseph Mold, director of online learning
and instructional design. The college held a Free the
Textbooks rally, where students learned about OER,
found out which courses were available, and discussed
their experiences with paying for textbooks.
Bay College is focusing its grant work on an
associate in arts OER degree, which will be complete
OER initiative finds success after first year
By Emily Shenk Flory