By Karen Smith

Please enjoy this cross-post from Dr. Warren Rosenberg, VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at The College of Westchester.

In September, President Obama launched a bus tour to promote his agenda for higher education reform. Among the central elements of his agenda were the following:
• Making a college education more affordable
• Course redesign including massive open online courses
• Competency based learning that moves away from seat time
• More efforts to recognize prior learning
• Rewarding colleges for enrolling large numbers of students eligible for Pell Grants
• Recognizing initiatives that foster student success and specifically citing Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative

While these initiatives may be new on the President’s agenda, they are already well underway at CW. Here are some specific examples.

First of all, 75% of CW’s students are Pell Grant eligible and we appreciate that President Obama recognizes the special challenges, and the importance, of serving a population of students with high financial need and for proposing to reward colleges such as CW for serving this population.

In an effort to help reduce the total cost of a CW education and ensure that students are prepared for success in their studies, all incoming students who tested into non-credit Basics of Math were provided with, and actively encouraged to participate in, a cost-free Summer Bridge program to help improve their math skills and to retest into a higher-level, credit-bearing math class. Absent this initiative, the students would otherwise have to be placed in the tuition-carrying, non-credit Basics of Math class during their first semester not only increasing the cost of their degree but setting them back by one course in their progress towards degree completion. 122 students took advantage of this during the 2013 summer with 117 successfully placed in a higher level, credit-bearing course.

In order to provide our incoming students with yet another option to accomplish this same benefit and, to provide this basic math instruction to a broader population of high school and prospective adult students, CW is just a few months away from launching its own, and first, MOOC based on our Basics of Mathematics course. We are in the process of externally validating a newly developed, fully online Math placement test and have had the Math MOOC under development for about six months. CW has already begun participating in early high school type programs providing students with an opportunity to shorten their time of study in college and to reduce the overall cost of their college degree. Expanding on our campus-based Jump Start program and CW-In-Your-School program, CW offered three college-level courses in the inaugural session of the Yonkers Summer Collegiate Academy. All of these initiatives provide high school students with the opportunity of receiving college-level instruction and earning college credits for a minimal fee while still in high school. These credits are fully transferrable to CW as well as to other colleges and can reduce both the students’ time-to-degree and overall college cost.

CW has been further developing our program of prior learning assessment. Students may now enter CW and have credits granted towards their degree for prior learning that had been accomplished at other colleges, through CLEP, Uexcel, ECE and International Baccalaureate exams, through several high school and BOCES articulations, for holding technology certifications such as A+, CCNA, Adobe or Microsoft Office Specialist, for military experience, or through a portfolio evaluation of life and career experiences. In September 2012, The College of Westchester was selected to partner with Carnegie Mellon University and a small group of other colleges across the country in Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (CMU-OLI). Funded, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewitt Foundation and the National Science Foundation, the CMU-OLI project seeks to improve the success of college students in certain “gateway courses”, identified as those that traditionally have high enrollments and are found to be the most challenging to entering students.

The stated goals of CMU-OLI include:
• Support better learning and instruction with high-quality, scientifically-based, classroom-tested online courses and materials through courses that are designed based on learning science research and, in turn, contribute to that research.
• Share courses and materials openly and freely so that anyone can learn. Courses are designed to support the individual learner who does not have the benefit of an instructor.
• Develop a community of use, research, and development to allow for the continuous evaluation, improvement, and growth of courses and course materials.

The course materials include self-paced, fully illustrated readings, embedded multimedia elements, practice activities, responsive ungraded self-assessment questions, and graded assessments.

As a formal program participant, five CW faculty members participated in a research project evaluating the benefit of using a suite of open source online materials developed by CMU in Statistics, Psychology, and Anatomy & Physiology. CW’s participation in the project continued through the Winter semester. Over 100 CW students participated in the project, all having agreed to do so as volunteer research subjects through CMU’s institutional review process. Students in selected CW Gateway Courses taught by the participating faculty were administered a CMU provided pre-test at the start of each course, were assigned to either experimental groups that utilized CMU-OLI materials in the classes or to control groups that did not, and were administered a CMU provided post-test at the end of each course. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are now evaluating the results provided by CW and the other participating colleges.

Several CW courses have been redesigned to make use of CMU-OLI resources, for example, the online ‘Human Biology’ course, eliminating the need entirely for a course textbook as a way to help reduce costs for students. The College will continue to adopt these materials systematically when available.

In these and many other ways, CW goes out of its way to help make college more affordable for students, embrace emerging technologies in ways that help students meet learning objectives, remediate successfully and without cost to students who need it, and partner with other higher education learning partners, such as Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative.