Five SUNY community colleges win trailblazing ‘Achieving the Dream’ grants

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Herkimer County Community College, in partnership with  Monroe Community College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Mohawk Valley Community College and Clinton Community College, has received an Achieving the Dream (ATD) 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.

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SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said: “Today’s announcement of Achieving the Dream grants will strongly support increased access at community colleges across the country, including five SUNY campuses, while bolstering our own efforts to broaden the development of open textbooks and other open resources. Congratulations to the SUNY community colleges at Clinton, Herkimer, Mohawk Valley, Monroe, and Tompkins Cortland on earning this support, which will make our courses and degree programs even more affordable for students.”

Led by Monroe Community College, SUNY campuses receiving the grants will be supported by the Open SUNY Textbook and SUNY Open Education Resources (OER) Services program based at SUNY Geneseo. Additional information about OER at SUNY can be found online, at

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.

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.

Beginning this summer, Herkimer College will begin converting two online degree programs, Liberal Arts and Sciences: General Studies and Business: Health Services Management Technology, to what are called “Z-degrees.” All required and elective courses will move from publisher copyrighted textbooks to Open Educational Resources.

Herkimer College President Cathleen McColgin said, “We are committed to having two degree programs converted to all OER courses by the end of 2018. Students will have the opportunity to complete these programs without the additional financial burden of purchasing textbooks, hence the designation of “Z-degree” for “zero” cost for course materials. Students will also benefit from using a reservoir of high quality content customized to the way today’s digital learners learn best. We are excited to take on a leadership role in this innovative project.”

Dr. McColgin is part of a team of five leaders from SUNY attending the OER Degree Initiative launch event in San Francisco with other representatives of the college. Herkimer College has been a leader in online learning offering full online degree programs since 1999 when the Internet Academy was developed. Herkimer now offers 20 complete degree programs and support services entirely online. “The online teaching experience and innovative nature that our faculty and administrators bring to the table will certainly help make this a successful initiative,” said Linda Lamb, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Internet Academy and Continuing Education.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Led by Monroe Community College, SUNY campuses receiving the grants will be supported by the Open SUNY Textbook and SUNY Open Education Resources (OER) Services program based at SUNY Geneseo. Additional information about OER at SUNY can be found online, at

The OER Degree Initiative, led by Achieving the Dream, is a community college reform that aims to boost college access and completion for underserved students. Along with other approaches, the OER Degree Initiative expects to accelerate students’ progress through college, aided by eliminating textbook costs and engaging faculty in redesigning courses and degree programs, replacing proprietary textbooks with open educational resources.

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