Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

Up Front: Spring 2012



Open Educational Resources: A Cost-Effective Solution

A new online service makes course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, podcasts, and other materials available for free to educators and students.

Open Educational Resources (OER), a phrase coined in 2002, refers to digital education materials that are published online and available for free. Colleges and universities are drafting initiatives that allow them to provide low-cost and free resources, like Washington State Community College’s Open Course Library or MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Students and teachers visit the school’s host site to access syllabi, activities, textbooks, and more.

“We desperately need to see if this is working for people, making college more affordable, and giving students the knowledge and skills they need to drive this knowledge economy going forward,” said Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter at a recent appearance at the Center for American Progress (CAP).

OER has the potential to drastically reduce the cost of textbooks and course delivery, making college more affordable for millions of students, according to CAP.

“Textbook prices have been rising at about four times the rate of inflation for the last few decades,” said Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate with Student PIRGs and director of its Make Textbooks Affordable project, also speaking at CAP. “It’s gotten to the point where students can’t afford materials for their classes.”

To read an introductory OER guide, visit

Community-College Study Asks, What Helps Students Graduate?

A new, multiyear study aims to determine the effectiveness of community college efforts to increase graduation rates.

The study, led by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), will produce reports annually for the next three years. The first report, A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College Student Success, was released in January. It outlines 13 strategies for increasing retention and graduation rates, including fast-tracking remedial education, providing students with experiential learning, and requiring students to attend orientation.

These strategies are already in place at many two-year colleges, but it’s not yet clear how well they’re working. The report found a sizable gap between students who plan to graduate and those who actually do, suggesting that what colleges think works may not always help retain and graduate students. Only 45 percent of entering community-college students earn a credential within six years of enrolling.

For the full report, go to

College Endowments See Gains in 2011, but Not Enough

University endowments grew during fiscal 2011, but not enough to make up for the previous three years of losses. John Walda, president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which recently analyzed the endowments of 823 institutions, said 47 percent of the endowments have market values below what they reported in 2008. “Even though we had a really great year, many of our institutions are still not at a point where they’ve recovered in terms of value from the recession,” he said. For the full report, go to

HBCU Television Network Launched in March

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) need more exposure, as do the values they espouse to African-American students.

These are the two main reasons Curtis Symonds, a senior cable television executive, offered when he launched a new television network dedicated solely to HBCUs.

The Atlanta-based HBCU Network, which debuted in March, showcases the nation’s 105 HBCUs. Twenty percent of the channel’s equity will be shared among those institutions. In addition, the new network is working to enlist HBCUs (particularly those with proprietary television stations) as programming partners for developing original shows for the channel.

For more information about the HBCU network or to watch its programs, visit

Online College Students Should Start Smaller, Research Finds

New students are more likely to drop out of online colleges if they take full courseloads than if they enroll part time, according to results from a research project.

Led by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies, the project’s researchers created a database that measures 33 variables for the online coursework of 640,000 students, which translates to 3 million course-level records.

"Each of the different institutions has a very different organizational structure for how they deliver courses,” said Sebastián Díaz, the project’s senior statistician and an associate professor of technology at West Virginia University. “What the data seem to suggest, however, is that for students who seem to have a high propensity of dropping out of an online course-based program, the fewer courses they take initially, the better off they are.”