Scaling the Impact of the Affordable Learning Solutions: HBCU Leadership and Strategies for Faculty, Students, and Administrators

Concurrent Session 5 & 6 (combined)
Streamed Session HBCU

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Reducing higher education costs by providing no-low cost course materials has proven to be an important institutional strategy. We will review the leadership and strategies of HBCUs to deliver Affordable Learning Solutions programs that engage faculty, students, and campus staff in significant actions to adopt and adapt OER.


Robbie K. Melton, Ph.D. Is a tenured professor and transitional dean of Graduate School for Tennessee State University. She is also founder and CEO of ‘RobbieTech4Teach’ and formally (20 years) Associate Vice Chancellor of Mobilization Emerging Technology for Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) assigned to develop the system’s Strategic Emerging IOE Technology Planning and provide system-wide Professional Development and Faculty Training related to education technology support and services for teaching, learning, training, and workforce development, product testing, pilots and research. Melton is currently overseeing research regarding the ‘Emerging Technology of The Internet of Everything (IoE) of Smart Connected Devices and Mixed Reality Technologies’ (VR/AR/Holograms/Wearables) for enhancing teaching, improving learning, and increasing workforce productivity; curating IOE Smart Educational Devices, Gadgets, and Tools; and primary investigator for HBCU OER Affordable Learning Solutions Pilots and OER Workforce Skills Commons
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

For the past 6 years, the HBCU Affordable Learning Community has been building the organizational, programmatic, and technical foundation for their Affordable Learning Solutions program for all HBCUs.  Nine (9) HBCUs have been institutionalizing the Affordable Learning Solutions strategies, modelled after the programs develop by the California State University, MERLOT, and Skills Commons which are internationally recognized for  providing access to free and open educational resources to millions of faculty, staff, students, and the broader education and workforce communities. Another eight (8) have initiated some elements of an AL$ project on their campus.  The leaders of HBCU institutions such as Tennessee State University, Southern University, Bethune Cookman University, Central State University, Edward Waters University, Morehouse College, and others within the HBCU AL$ community, in partnership with MERLOT-SkillsCommons have designed an open porta ( l that provides easy access to:

  • the largest aggregate collection of  free and open e-textbooks, open courseware, open access journals, open learning objects, and more
  • over 50 general education course with multiple free and open e-textbooks aligned with the course curriculum
  • free and open collections of virtual labs in STEM and workforce development curriculum
  • over 100 free and open teaching ePortfolios that showcase faculty’s adoption of OER across a broad range of disciplines
  • a free and open library of planning tools, guidelines, and professional development resources to support HBCUs developing and implementing their own AL$ programs
  • free and open methods for sharing their use, reuse, revision, remixing, redistribution, and retention of OER that they have adopted and authored


Tennessee State University (TSU) has successfully institutionalized the Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) strategy and has been recognized as outstanding and exemplary by Berkeley project.   TSU have been successfully incubating AL$ projects at various HBCUs by leveraging the Hewlett grants to the California State University – MERLOT. Along with other vanguard HBCU institutions, we now have a community of nine (9) HBCUs that have implemented AL$ and has successfully enabled HBCU faculty to redesign their courses and adopt OER to reduce if not eliminate the cost of course materials for their students.   MERLOT-SkillsCommons closely collaborated with the HBCU leadership group to design and maintain the HBCU AL$ Community Portal that showcases the individually customized, institutional AL$ portals, and all the open educational services that all HBCUs can use.

Although a foundation of expertise and resources are available to the other HBCUs, the already challenging higher ed economic environment compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic placed almost unsurmountable barriers for other HBUCs to adopt and institutionalize AL$ on their own.  Yet strategies for reducing the cost of education through the adoption of OER (AL$) can be a critical strategy to help HBCUs survive the current economic crisis. Based on the five (5) years of participating and facilitating the HBCU AL$ Summits and programs with MERLOT, we have recognized many significant barriers for HBCUs being able to translate their good intentions into institutionalized practices.

  • HBCU administrators, faculty, librarians, academic technology directors, faculty development directors, and mid-level managers have extraordinary responsibilities on their campuses which can create overwhelming circumstances. Most HBCUs have enrollments under 5,000 students, which creates a very challenging business environment for HBCUs to survive.  A small number of employees have to perform a complex array of jobs and consequently, innovations and institutional changes are difficult to develop and implement.
  • Moving all courses online due to the pandemic has created an overwhelming demand for quality online curriculum.   However, the culturally contextualized online curriculum for the African American community of learners and faculty, which is a critical component of HBCUs institutional identify, is very difficult to discover and adopt.   The OER collections are still sparsely populated with culturally contextualized curriculum for the African American communities.  Consequently, HBCUs could lose their distinct educational identity. 

The presentation will review the HBCU AL$ Communities’ strategy for scaling AL$ program across more HBCUs and strengthening the capacities of existing members of the HBCU AL$ community.  The HBCU AL$ strategy is focusing on supporting departments developing their capacities for adopting OER (vs. just individuals),  facilitating campus leadership in advocating for OER adoptions, and expanding the collection of OER for the African American communities.