Forsyth Tech First Community College in NC to Implement Innovative Degree Initiative

Use of Open Educational Resources in new degree programs hopes to reduce costs, reinvigorate teaching, and raise college completion rates.

by staff

Forsyth Technical Community College has received a grant to create new degree programs using high-quality open educational resources (OER). 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. Forsyth Tech is the first school in North Carolina to participate in this initiative.

forsyth tech graduates
forsyth tech graduates

The new degree programs will assist students by providing courses and degree programs specially designed to be conducted using digital and open source courseware, creating more engaging and applicable content while reducing costs.

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.

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.”

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.

Staying at the forefront of creative education is not something new for Forsyth Tech, who has been nationally recognized for their innovation in programs and degrees. The 5th largest community college in NC, they currently offer associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates in more than 200 programs of study, including programs that promote personal and professional development through non-credit courses and seminars, as well as customized training for business and industry.

forsyth tech
forsyth tech

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 has the potential to change post-secondary education at many colleges, not just at Forsyth Tech. The initiative will create a library of high-quality, digital, open courses which will be 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.

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).

students at forsyth tech
students at forsyth tech

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.

Considering that only 40% of Forsyth County residents over the age of 25 have an Associate’s, Bachelor’s or higher degree, affordable, accessible college education is necessary if our community is going to access employment. The initiative Forsyth Tech is implementing will be a welcome addition to the educational opportunities currently available in our county.


More information on the initiative:
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.
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.

In addition to Forsyth Tech, colleges in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Texas are participating in this initiative.