The Free College Program at Eastern Gateway Community College: Partnerships and OER at Work.

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session Community College/TAACCCT

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Eastern Gateway Community College in Ohio has been delivering free college education to more than 60,000 students over the last 5 years and saved over $12M in course materials through the adoption of free and open educational resources with MERLOT and SkillsCommons. How did we do it? Stop by.


Gerard L. Hanley Ph.D. is the Executive Director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, and SkillsCommons ( for the California State University, the Director for the Center for Usability for Design and Accessibility and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At MERLOT and SkillsCommons, he directs the development and sustainability of the international consortium and technology strategy to provide open educational services to improve teaching and learning and continues to development the US Department of Labor's open repository of educational resources for workforce development. Gerry's previous positions include Assistance Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, the Director of Faculty Development and Director of Strategy Planning at CSU, Long Beach.

Extended Abstract

Through its national partnerships with AFL-CIO and other community-based organizations, Eastern Gateway Community College offers the Free College Program to more than fifteen million working-class families in the United States.  Launched in 2016, Eastern Gateway Community College works nationally with organized labor and other organizations to determine what academic programs and career training certificates will facilitate the best educational experience for working adults, helping to train and skill the workforce of the future.  In this program, Eastern Gateway Community College has delivered 100% online instruction to more than 60,000 students since 2016—students from all ages, backgrounds, and levels of socioeconomic status, as well from all fifty states. 

The success of the Free College Program at Eastern Gateway Community College, measured since the program’s inception in 2015, provides the evidence to support the projected success of the proposed project.  Several measurements stand out as clear indicators of such success, including graduations by program, student retention, student persistence, student course success, and student credit transfers. Additionally, students from the Free College Program have transferred credits from Eastern Gateway Community College to nearly 700 institutions of higher education to further their studies.  Student retention within the Free College Program has exceeded the national averages for student retention as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse since 2015.  Likewise, student persistence rates within the Free College Program have exceeded the national averages for student retention as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse since 2015 as well.

As a result of these efforts, Eastern Gateway Community College is in a unique position to deliver education and career training programs at significant scale to populations impacted and otherwise displaced by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as outlined by the grant notice.  More than thirty-five (35) programs are currently delivered entirely online and at no out-of-pocket cost to the student.  Eastern Gateway Community College established the Free College Program to reduce a variety of barriers to college access for working adults—not just the high cost of education. Through the management and operation of a variety of student-focused services and supports, Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) helps students navigate the enrollment process.  Students have the flexibility to do schoolwork on their schedule, allowing them to work full time, care for their children, and provide for their families. While attaining the education or career training they need to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Though the Free College Program was no cost to the students, there are many costs that are covered by the institution, including the cost of course materials.   In 2018, EGCC began a partnership with MERLOT to transition all their course materials to free and open educational resources.  In 2020, EGCC reported that they saved $12M in course materials by use free and open educational resources for a majority of their courses.

MERLOT provided EGCC a customized and branded portal for their faculty and instructional designers to find quality substitutions for the higher cost course materials and textbooks, the Eastern Gateway Community College Open Library for Education that provided a wealth of quality options for faculty and instructional designers to choose free and open educational resources for their courses.   The portal provides a wide range for online teaching/learning resources, from animations, presentations, drill & practice, tutorials, simulations, collections, and more across all different disciplines.   MERLOT’s SmartSearch also searches over 75 other libraries, which provides even greater access to alternative resources.    MERLOT also connected the EGCC to expert members of its community to support EGCC in redesigning their courses with free and open educational resources.

With the COVID pandemic, EGCC also leveraged the MERLOT OER resources to support moving more of its courses online.   The customized EGCC-MERLOT portal provides easy access to guidance for teachers and students in moving online.

The panel will consist of the EGCC administration program officer (Dan Jones), the EGCC instructional technology lead (Vanessa Birney), and MERLOT’s executive director (Gerry Hanley) with each person presenting the key plans and actions that enable this success to occur at the scale and speed.  Identifying the factors that determine the organization’s readiness for change, the professional development with faculty, and the instructional design for repurposing and reusing free and open educational resources will be the topics of conversation with the session’s participants.   The panel will engage the session participants by asking them to “think-pair-share” about their institution’s readiness for migrating to free and open educational resources.

We expect session participants to “take-away” draft plans on how some of the policies, practices, tools, and strategies implemented by EGCC could be adopted by their own institution.