Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) has joined a nationwide initiative to make open educational resources (OER) — free, online textbooks — available to students, building their retention and graduation rates.
The OER Degree Initiative is led by Achieving the Dream, Inc., and involves 38 colleges in 13 states. BMCC, along with Hostos Community College and Bronx Community College, comprise the CUNY consortium, which will share an award of $300,000 for the three-year project.
At BMCC, where the majority of students qualify for financial aid based on family income, the cost of textbooks is a significant barrier that can impact academic performance and delay graduation. In fact, the cost of college textbooks has soared 73% in the last ten years, according to a 2016 report from non-profit Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Individual books often cost more than $200 and sometimes go as high as $400.
A recent Achieving the Dream study reports 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,” the report says, “students using OER would complete their degrees a full year earlier for a 60 credit-hour degree.”
BMCC Criminal Justice program commits to offering OER
The national OER Degree Initiative was launched on June 13 when representatives of community colleges including BMCC convened in San Francisco to start their work making OER available to students.
“Open Educational Resources makes dollars and sense for BMCC students and faculty,” says Jim Berg, BMCC Associate Dean of Faculty. “Since the beginning of our involvement with OER, students have saved $500,000 on course materials. Now the Criminal Justice faculty have committed to develop the first degree program at BMCC which students will be able to complete without having to pay for high-priced textbooks.”
According to Yolanda Martin, a professor in the Criminal Justice program, “Turning the CRJ Program at BMCC into an Open Educational Resources (OER) program aligns with our mission of securing equitable access to education for our students. Multiple studies show that financial stress hinders cognitive ability, and OER relieves our students from having to make the choice between purchasing textbooks or paying for rent. In addition, OER ignites independent thinking abilities and self-reliance, on top of fostering students' self-perception as scholars. It is a win-win for faculty and students, and it signifies and important and extremely necessary shift in pedagogical paradigms.
BMCC has explored the benefits of OER for years, including a forum on OER in Fall 2014 sponsored by the A. Philip Randolph Memorial Library at BMCC, and the New York Public Interest Research Group. Also, faculty has participated in a pilot program using OER, through the BMCC Center for Excellence in Teaching Learning and Scholarship, or CETLS, and the BMCC Library.
Achieving the Dream 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. For more information, click here.