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OER Degree Pilot: Increasing Access & Completion


San Jacinto College is working with three partner colleges: Alamo, Austin, and El Paso colleges to pilot AA and AS degrees in General Studies using only open educational resources (OER) for course materials. In addition, San Jacinto is developing an AA transfer degree in Business using only OER. San Jacinto College will pilot OER courses during the spring 2017 semester. The full OER general studies associate degree program is tentatively scheduled to be available for students with the start of the fall 2017 term.

Authors:  Tonja Conerly, Sociology faculty; Mark Johnson, Dean of Business & Technology

Published on January 21, 2017


The motivation for San Jacinto College to develop OER degrees was to increase access and completion rates for their traditionally underrepresented students by reducing or eliminating textbook costs. Approximately 75% of those who enroll at the college are students of color, many of whom are Pell Grant eligible, or first-generation college students who struggle to pay for college even with financial aid. By eliminating prohibitive textbook costs estimated at $1,200 for full-time students, the new OER degree can significantly impact students’ ability to meet their academic goals in a timely and cost-effective manner.  Early research¹ has shown that students who take courses where textbooks were replaced with open educational resources, take more credit hours both during and after the term of the OER course which can result in earlier completion. The launch of San Jacinto College’s OER general studies associate degree is supported in part by a $74,676 grant from Achieving the Dream through Austin Community College, the main recipient in Texas and one of four partners in the project.


Three Early Challenges

Three early challenges surfaced in the first six months of the OER degree pilot that involved rethinking faculty training, classroom infrastructure, and access to OER courses by targeted students.

Faculty Training

Initial faculty recruited for developing and teaching courses in the OER Degree were the usual faculty leaders who advocate and drive change at the college.  These faculty were excited about the project but when they gained an understanding of how some OER materials were less technologically advanced than publisher resources, some declined to join. Because of the fast-approaching initial deadlines in the grant, other faculty were recruited who expressed an interest in developing and sharing instructional resources.  The college renewed faculty development opportunities working with Lumen Learning to help interested faculty find appropriate open educational resources to adopt for their courses.

Classroom Infrastructure

Initially, the OER degree team assumed there were enough computer classrooms and adequate Wi-Fi to support the pilot OER classes during the first year of the grant.  The availability of computer classrooms was over-estimated and the cost for high-density Wi-Fi improvements was underestimated.  The team is considering revamping its existing Interactive Learning Center to be the designated OER building.

Equity and Access

The OER team was working so hard to develop its General Studies OER degree in the first six months that marketing and outreach plans for their intended audience for the  OER degree were not developed.   After determining that the neediest students were less aware of the OER courses than anticipated, the team worked with internal groups, the Student Services, and Financial Aid offices to develop communications and outreach.  OER course seats were reserved for Pell Grant eligible and first-generation college students.


The first step in developing the OER Degree program was to create a cross-functional OER Task Force which consists of administrators, bookstore staff, student advisors, and faculty. In the Pilot OER Program, the faculty who will be teaching the OER classes were recommended by their Department Chair, Dean, and/or Provost.  An OER Academy is being developed to train instructors who want to teach OER classes in Fall 2017 and beyond.  Faculty who apply to teach OER classes will attend the academy and complete the required modules to become certified to teach OER classes. These classes will be administered by members of the OER Task Force and the Educational Technology Department.  This process will ensure that classes are reviewed to meet the Creative Commons Attribution licensing requirement.

In Fall 2017 when all 56 classes are offered for the Associate of Arts and the 60 classes are offered for the transfer degree in Business, the challenge will be how many classes to offer per discipline.  If the OER classes become more popular with students as is anticipated, the questions of whether adjunct or full-time instructors teach the classes and how many classes to offer will become more pressing.

College Profile

Quick Facts

  • 3 Campuses, 12 Extension Centers
  • 30,000 Students
  • Publicly funded community college
  • Texas Association of Community Colleges

San Jacinto College, founded in 1960, has evolved from one location in urban Pasadena to three campuses and 12 extension centers serving the Greater Houston community. A diverse student body of nearly 30,000 credit students are enrolled in their more than 80 programs and 200 degree and certificate options.  The member of the Texas Association of Community Colleges is committed to providing successful pathways for its students and works with industry partners to meet the job training needs of the growing industries of the region.


(1)Fischer, L., Hilton, J., Robinson, T.J. et al. J Comput High Educ (2015) 27: 159. doi:10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x