About 4.3 million people are dropping out of two-year and four-year institutions right now that could, with a little bit of extra support, complete and obtain their credentials.

That was the challenge issued at our recent Saylor Higher Education Summit by Heather Hiles, keynote speaker and Deputy Director of Postsecondary Student Success at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She offered insights (full video below) for higher education institutions to help students succeed in completing their degrees.

Hiles’ work at the Gates Foundation focuses on the impact of interventions in four key areas:

1. Digital Learning
2. Developmental/Remedial Education
3. Student Services (Advising and Financial Aid/Security)
4. Credit Transfer

Open Educational Resources (OER) can be a useful contributor in each of these areas. Per Hiles, colleges that offered standardized “master courses” or curriculum in general education subjects observed better student outcomes. OER can provide a sustainable basis for general education courses by providing a curriculum that is cost-efficient to maintain (versus commercial curricular offerings). OER aligned to learning outcomes, such as Saylor Academy courses, can be used as a course “template” to be updated or revised per individual faculty needs as well.

Developmental education also presents an opportunity for innovative interventions, as it is currently one of the “largest loss points [for student retention] of underrepresented minority students”. Due to its sustainability and customizability, OER would provide excellent support for developmental or co-requisite remediation as well. Self-paced courses especially provide flexibility for students who need extra support to work through subjects as they need. Credit-bearing OER, in particular, provides opportunities for students to advance, at their own pace, and can be tailored to institutional need.

Financial aid and credit transfer are closely related in their impact on student success. With generous and clear credit acceptance policies for quality OER-based courses (and other prior learning credits), students can build the momentum needed to complete their degrees — students who transfer such courses into programs tuition-free can leverage financial dollars toward core courses and complete with less debt.

One example of an OER-based approach to retention focuses on “stopped out” students who have completed most of their degree requirements but left school before graduating due to running out of financial resources and aid. The University of Memphis’ Project Finish Line is a model program that addresses a problem facing many colleges and universities. By creating a “Finish Line Scholarship” and partnering with low-cost course providers like Saylor Academy to help deliver needed courses for degree requirements, Memphis provides a bridge back to campus for students who have stopped out.

Since the launch of the Finish Line program, students have completed 467 Saylor Academy courses, earning 1,401 credit hours at a total cost savings of almost $470,000 — allowing 300+ graduates to earn their degrees. Replicating programs like Project Finish Line would tap more than 12 million potential students nationwide, who are near completion of a credential but need a link back to a willing institution.

Heather Hiles: “How Implementing Solutions for Student Success is the Best Way to Improve Institutional ROI”