College Education: Exploring the Open Education Movement


According to a recent Pew Research Center study, ninety-four percent of parents expect their children to go to college. They want their children to be successful, to gain the skills they need to be economically independent. And it is a generally well-accepted fact that a college education provides students with academic, professional, and life skills far beyond those taught at a high school level. While the institutions and the ways in which a student chooses to attain those skills vary widely, the necessity of a college education is undeniable, particularly in the current highly competitive job market.

Unemployment Rates

Indeed, data shows that getting a college education continues to be extremely beneficial. The average college graduate makes at least $20,000 more per year than a high school graduate, according to that same PRC study. College graduates also enjoy a higher level of job security; even in this recession, the Wall Street Journal reports, the unemployment rate for workers 25 and older with a Bachelor's degree or higher was 4.6% in September of 2010, compared with 10.3% for those with just a high school diploma. Laid-off college graduates are also finding work faster. Their median duration of unemployment was 18.4 weeks as of August of 2010, compared with 27.5 weeks for high school grads. Is it any wonder that college enrollment is higher than it has ever been?

Cost of College

In light of the record number of college enrollments, it is interesting to note that many people still believe that a college education is beyond their means. The average published price of tuition and fees for public four-year collegesĀ is only about $8,240 per year; with financial aid it can be as little as $2,490. However, tuition at a private four-year university can be as high as $38,590, according to the College Board, without financial aid of any kind. College enrollment may be up in response to the many alternatives that have become available, ranging from evening courses at big universities, to community colleges and for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix, which, according to PBS' Frontline series reporter Martin Smith, are making a killing.

Open Education Movement

But there is another option. For those who consider a college education necessary but too expensive, there is the Open Education movement. It is a grass-roots movement that aims to remove barriers to receiving quality education, such as the high cost for the student, by:

  • Reducing the high cost of teaching materials by providing them over the internet and through open courseware, and
  • Reducing the time lag between producing course materials and textbooks and getting them into the hands of students. By the time many books are printed, they are out of date, which is particularly problematic in fast-moving areas of science, technology, and medicine,

It stems from and is similar to, but more general than, the Open Educational Resource (or OER) movement, which seeks to combat the high cost of textbooks and other teaching materials through open licenses and digital, openly-provided means.

One example of an open education provider is It is an exclusively online university offering freshman-level classes in both video and transcript form, along with quizzes that students can take on their own throughout the course, leading to a final CLEP exam, taken at an actual testing center. Credit earned from passing the exam transfers as actual college credit to more than 2/3 of U.S. colleges and universities. The $80 exam fee is the only cost of the class, and each one is worth up to 12 college credits.

The site, which began in 2002 as a student-driven online book exchange, offers 13 free courses, unbiased and expert information on a variety of careers and universities, and financial support to other organizations that fight poverty with education. It's too early to say if this is the panacea of college education, but sites like this definitely provide more flexibility in pace and place than many other options at a greatly reduced price. That appeal cannot be lost on today's college students and their parents.

Are you preparing your kids to attend college? Do you emphasize school or learning more in their preparation?

College fund photo courtesy of
College girl photo courtesy of Flickr.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr.


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