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Fully Online Liberal Arts OER Degree


Pima Community College (PCC) has nearly finished completing an OER pathway of 21 courses totaling 64 credits for a fully online Associate of Arts (AA) Liberal Arts Degree through Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative.  Although the most popular degree at PCC, the AA Liberal Arts has never been marketed as a fully online degree until now. The OER pathway leading to the AA Liberal Arts Degree is offered through PimaOnline, PCC’s centralized division for distance education, which targets working adult students who prefer the flexibility of online courses and who struggle with the costs of higher education.  

As of Fall 2017, the OER courses created for the AA Liberal Arts Degree saved PCC students approximately $160,000. Additionally, enrollments in PimaOnline increased steadily, with a 17% increase noted for Spring 2018.  PCC is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, located in Tucson, Arizona, the nation’s fifth poorest community.

Authors: Janice Kempster, PhD, Dean of Distance Education; Keith Rocci, Library Department Head.

Published on March 10, 2018


In 2016, the Student Textbook Task Force called attention to the high cost of textbooks and asked faculty and administrators to explore options.  That spring, the PCC Governing Board declared the College initiative to “lower the cost of textbooks for students.” These events, along with faculty interest in OER, spurred PimaOnline administrators to successfully pursue the OER Degree Initiative Grant through Achieving the Dream.

The goals for the OER Degree Initiative include:

  • The completion of high-quality, engaging OER versions of many high-enrolling online courses
  • The ability for students to complete a fully online AA Liberal Arts Degree with OER courses
  • The development of a faculty awareness and culture around OER that will extend beyond the life of the grant
  • Student savings in textbook costs
  • Improved student retention and completion in online courses


Faculty Awareness, Time, and Expertise

Initially, some faculty members were skeptical about OER.  Even after questions about resources, quality, and access were addressed, the issues of time and design expertise remained.  It takes time to create a course utilizing OER, and it takes specific skill to design an accessible, engaging online course. While the grant allowed a stipend for each faculty member who created a course, it alone was not enough incentive for many to engage in the labor-intensive task of creating a new course with new materials and often with a new pedagogical approach.

Anticipating the “time and skill” dilemma, administrators offered faculty an additional incentive to create an OER-based course: the extensive resources of the Center for Learning Technology (CLT).  For nearly 20 years the CLT staff of instructional designers, instructional web designers, media specialists, and a librarian have created and maintained online courses at PCC. CLT’s partnership in the OER course development process for the Achieving the Dream grant has been key to the successful completion of the courses.

As faculty members finished developing their OER courses and as students began enrolling in them, interest in OER expanded across the institution and into other course modalities.  By summer 2018, PimaOnline will roll-out an incentive-based plan for faculty to continue to support the development of online OER courses beyond the grant period.


The OER degree implementation is centered in PimaOnline, PCC’s centralized division supporting distance education.  PimaOnline’s leadership, including faculty department chairs, are instrumental in promoting OER across the institution and in recruiting faculty members to build OER courses.  “OER updates” are an ongoing part of all PimaOnline professional development days, and the process for creating an OER course is offered in formal trainings by instructional designers. Faculty efforts are supported by librarians and the Center for Learning Technology staff at PCC.  

Students are made aware of the OER courses/degree pathway in a variety of ways.  First, the bookstore added an “OER message” in the textbook area for all OER courses.  This way, from the course schedule, students can tell if a course has no cost for textbooks before they register.  Additionally, PimaOnline is supported by a dedicated student advisor who helps students know the OER course options.  Finally, PimaOnline is represented by two student senators who help inform their peers.


PCC will achieve all of the goals set forth earlier by the end of the grant.  It is too early to provide data on student retention and completion at this time.

The OER impact on just one division is evident by two courses in the Writing and Communications Division, WRT 101 and 102.  Once WRT 101 and 102 were developed, the PimaOnline department head promoted the courses among his faculty members and advocated for the adoption of the OER sections.  As a result, the division offered 28 OER sections of WRT 101 and 18 OER sections of WRT 102 in Fall 2017, saving students $89,760. Thanks to these efforts, students will continue to benefit every semester as these courses are offered again and in other modalities.

The best advice we can offer to institutions who are thinking about starting an OER degree initiative is to invest in the support that faculty will need to create quality OER courses.  Partner librarians and instructional designers with faculty members in the course development process. Develop structured processes that move courses from idea to completion. Create ways for faculty to share their completed courses with their peers inside and outside of the institution.  

College Profile

Pima Community College is a two-year college serving the greater Tucson metropolitan area at six locations throughout Pima County. Founded in 1966, Pima’s credit courses award certificates and associate’s degrees in a variety of fields. PCC also provides workforce development, career training programs, continuing education, and adult education.

Pima is committed to providing convenient, affordable, and accessible high quality education with the power to transform the lives of our students, and improve our community.