Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ushered in a new era of hope and opportunity for millions of Americans today when they revealed the innovative application criteria for the first $500 million in grants under the four-year, $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program. Grants will support the development and improvement of a new generation of free, post-secondary educational programs of two years or less that prepare students for successful careers in emerging and expanding industries.
This effort, which was developed and designed in consultation with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, sets the stage for what promises to become one of the most significant expansions in access to high-quality education and job training opportunities ever. These new investments will also play a major role in helping the Nation achieve the goal set by President Obama last year that by 2020 the United States will once again have the most highly educated workforce in the world.
But what matters most is what these new freely-available resources will mean to individuals.
By relying on evidence-based approaches and requiring that all materials produced be openly licensed for free use, adaptation, and improvement by others, this groundbreaking federal effort will bring free, high-quality curriculum and employment training opportunities within reach of anyone who has access to the Internet.
Open Educational Resources are learning materials that have been released under an intellectual property license that allows their free use by others. The materials produced as a result of these grants will carry the Creative Commons BY license, which also permits their free derivative use for commercial purposes. That means companies, schools, entrepreneurs, and others will be free to bundle, adapt, or customize the learning materials to create new offerings, products, and services. Schools will be able to affordably offer courses in subject areas and at levels of expertise previously beyond their reach. Students will be able to access free educational materials, including complete courses, and supportive services designed to help them accomplish their educational and job-training goals.
Millions of students around the world have already benefited from Open Educational Resources in the decade since then-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Charles Vest established MIT’s pioneering OpenCourseWare project, the first of its type, based on a proposal from members of his faculty. The goal, Vest explained in 2001, was to make all of the learning materials used by MIT's faculty in the school's 1,800 courses available via the Internet, where they could be used and repurposed as desired by others without charge.
"OpenCourseWare is consistent with what I believe is the best about MIT,” Vest has said. “It expresses our belief in the way education can be advanced -- by constantly widening access to information and by inspiring others to participate."
These new grants will make it possible for community colleges and other two-year degree-granting institutions to play a major role in adapting and improving existing free learning materials and by creating new materials specifically suited to meet the needs of students served by those institutions. The focus will be on the production and improvement of learning materials that lead students to employment in occupations that provide family-sustaining wages.
This program is being run out of the Department of Labor. To learn more, please visit: http://www.doleta.gov/taaccct.
Hal Plotkin is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education