The deputy chancellor and professor of psychological and brain sciences at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Robert Feldman, did not leave much to the imagination of what the root problem of higher education is today: poor and “dismal” graduation rates.
He began his op-ed at Inside Higher Ed and spoke of the new trend of having “open educational resources” (known as OERs) in order to bring the costs of college textbooks down for college students. Too many college students have significant and burdensome college debt, he said, and it is not resolved by having open access to OERs.
Feldman pointed out the following:
“Based on national statistics, of the students who enter four-year colleges this fall, we can expect that only about three-fifths will have graduated six years from now. For those who enter two-year schools, less than a third will have graduated in three years. Frankly, that’s appalling.”
“Moreover, as concerning as student debt may be for students who graduate, it poses a far greater threat to the students who do not graduate. The College Board estimates that, over the course of a lifetime, workers who graduate from college will earn about 66 percent more than their counterparts who do not graduate from college. In a very real sense, increasing graduation rates would significantly ease the financial burden associated with college.”
Feldman added that the availability of OERs actually masks “dismal” graduate rates. In his mind, “most open education resources fall short” because “they are usually little more than traditional textbooks, distributed digitally.” He did not withhold criticism of the textbook industry:
“They’re new versions of the same kinds of materials that have been around for decades, even as student expectations have changed and graduation rates have plummeted. Worse, they’re often poorly curated, and revisions and updates are sporadic at best.”
“It might seem counterintuitive, but the reality is that these ‘new’ open resources are generally among the least innovative solutions available today, and they ultimately do little more than further entrench an ineffective status quo.”
What was Feldman’s conclusion? The “prospect of free textbooks is obviously appealing,” but that is not the silver bullet to answer higher education’s ongoing woes nor does it tackle the root of their problem. He concluded that with this increased praise of OERs, educators “do ourselves and our students a disservice if we suggest that they should replace paid resources outright. Our students can’t afford it.”