Advancing Equity and Online Learning at California Community Colleges Through OER Policy Support: An Invitation to Trustees, Directors, and Decision Makers

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities and ushered in new challenges to which California and its community colleges are being called upon to respond. Alongside the rising cost of tuition and students’ weak overall safety net, colleges are facing budget deficits that will impact their ability to keep students enrolled, engaged, and financially supported within the current reality of online and distance learning. 

In the face of continued disruptions alongside the pandemic, such as California’s wildfires, there is an urgent need for instructional practice and policy supports that will remove financial and other barriers for students to be able to enroll in and successfully complete college. With future campus closures likely and online learning here to stay, colleges must find teaching and learning solutions that are economically feasible and equitable, and that incorporate what we’ve learned since the pandemic began.

OER as a Path Forward

ISKME’s recent research in collaboration with California community college leaders reveals the important role that OER, or Open Educational Resources, play in addressing the shift to online teaching and learning. Our work has shown that community colleges across the state are turning to freely available OER—including open textbooks and ancillary resources—to address student affordability needs and to build out their online course content for emergency remote learning.

Because OER can be legally distributed and adapted, they can be efficiently integrated by faculty into a college’s course management system, such as Canvas. Students are able to access open resources remotely through a computer or mobile device at no charge. Further, the ability to freely adapt OER fosters the instructional and course design shifts needed to create engaging experiences that meet student learning objectives—especially when transitioning to online settings. There is growing evidence to support this:

  • Nusbaum and Cuttler found that students were more likely to enroll in courses that had zero textbook costs than courses that used traditional textbooks, and that students rated instructors more positively when open textbooks were used

  • At the University of Georgia, researchers found that access to an open textbook on the first day of class improved end-of-course grades and decreased the rates of receiving a D, F, or withdrawal for all students, and for Pell Grant recipients most extensively.

  • Researchers at Tidewater Community College showed a decrease in student drop rates—and a concomitant increase in institutional revenue from retained tuition—when OER were used.

Among California Community Colleges, West Hills College Lemoore, Fresno City College, Reedley College, Butte College, and College of the Canyons are leading the way in utilizing OER to address the requirements of online learning and student success. These colleges are providing OER course conversion grants for faculty, revising their intellectual property guidelines to include open licensing, and forming centralized OER committees to guide their campus’s OER work. They are also advocating for OER through Board Resolutions, Academic Senate Resolutions, and Student Government Resolutions to signify support and to create a productive environment for faculty and students to explore the potential of OER. 

A Call for OER Policy Support

While statewide policies in California have encouraged the adoption of OER in postsecondary education (see, e.g., AB 798 and AB 1809), community colleges need guidelines, tools, and resources to support the implementation of OER. 

Policymakers and influencers have a significant role to play in enabling future campuses to leverage what West Hills College Lemoore and other champions have learned about the important role OER can play in addressing the challenges of the pandemic.

We invite California’s community college decision makers to initiate OER policy discussions with their academic senates, faculty unions, campus administrators, and with other key stakeholders—toward advancing equity and online learning for all students. 

Research-Based Guides

With funding from the  Michelson 20MM Foundation and in collaboration with the aforementioned OER community college champions from across the state, ISKME has developed a set of guidebooks to accelerate OER use for online learning. 

Administrator Quick Start Guide

The Administrator Quick Start Guide seeks to support community college administrators in enabling the use of OER to address online learning on their campuses.  The guidebook provides quick tips and starting points including:

  • A list of evidence-based practices and checklist considerations to support campus administrators in the transition to OER for online learning.

  • Resources to support campus leaders in impacting and developing OER policy supports, including example student government resolutions, district board resolutions, and academic senate resolutions.

  • Examples of how campus leaders and colleges across California have facilitated their transition to OER.


Faculty Quick Start Guide

The Faculty Quick Start Guide seeks to support community college faculty in more effectively meeting the continued reality of online learning through the use of OER. The guide includes:

  • Practical strategies for using OER to build courses in Canvas.

  • Considerations for using OER to create more accessible learning experiences, and more socially just learning experiences.

  • Background information on the what and why of OER, and tips for finding OER.

For More Information

For more information about the project or about Open Educational Resources, contact Amee Evans Godwin at

January 12, 2021