Forsyth Tech first community college in NC to use open educational resources in degree programs to reduce costs, reinvigorate teaching, and raise college completion rates

Forsyth Technical Community College has received a grant to create new degree programs using high-quality open educational resources (OER) in new degree programs. The 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 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 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.

At Forsyth Tech, new degrees using licensed content in Associate in Arts programs will be available to a minimum of 500 students over a three-year period.

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.

According to Forsyth Tech President Gary Green, “Beginning this summer, faculty at Forsyth Tech will take the lead in redesigning courses and degree programs. Over the next few years, students in these courses can expect to save 80 to 100 percent of the cost of textbooks and will benefit from using a reservoir of high-quality content customized to the way today’s digital learners learn best.”

Dr. Joel Welch, vice president of Instructional Services at the college, is representing Forsyth Tech at the OER Degree Initiative launch event this week in San Francisco.

“Forsyth Tech has already begun work on this OER initiative in math and science courses through work completed under a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant funded by the U.S. Department of Labor,” says Welch.

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.

Results of Previous Efforts

Colleges and states that have introduced OER initiatives have already seen significant results. Studies have shown that OER reduces costs and contributes to better grades, higher course completion rates, and faster degree completion.”

Tidewater Community college based in South Hampton Roads, VA, for example, was the first community college to adopt an open educational resources 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 using OER would complete their degrees a full year earlier for a 60 credit-hour degree.

How the Initiative Will Work

ATD will help colleges make OER degrees critical elements of their student success efforts. Lumen Learning will provide technical assistance, SRI International will evaluate the implementation, 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, easily accessible online platform.

Colleges Participating in the OER Degree Initiative

State Institutions
AZ (1) Pima Community College
CA (2) Santa Ana College, West Hills College Lemoore
CT (1) Housatonic Community College
FL (2) Broward College, Florida State College at Jacksonville
MA (1) Bunker Hill Community College
MD (1) Montgomery College Foundation
MI (1) Bay College
MN (3) Distance Minnesota Consortium (Alexandria Technical and Community College,  Northland Community and Technical College, Northwest Tech
NY (9) CUNY Consortium (Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College, Hostos Community College), SUNY Consortium (Clinton Community College, Herkimer Community College, Mohawk Valley Community College, Monroe Community College, Tompkins Cortland Community College
NC (1) Forsyth Technical Community College
TX (8) Odessa College, Texas Consortium:  Alamo Community College system (Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, St. Philip’s College), Austin Community College, San Jacinto Community College
VA (6) Virginia Community College Consortium (Central Virginia Community College,  Germanna Community College, Lord Fairfax Community College, Mountain Empire Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, Tidewater Community College)
WA (2) Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Pierce College

About Achieving the Dream

Achieving the Dream, Inc. is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to helping more community college students, particularly low-income students and students of color, stay in school and earn a college certificate or degree.