Broadening Open Education to Include Access: Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Talk at KSC

Broadening Open Education to Include Access: Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Talk at KSC

February 22, 2018

On Thursday, February 15th, Keene State College hosted professor, researcher, and activist, Sara Goldrick-Rab. She presented her talk, “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream.” Before Sara spoke about the exorbitant cost of college and poverty among students of higher education, biology professor and member of the Academic Technology Steering Committee, Karen Cangialosi, connected Sara’s talk to the USNH Open Education Initiative:  

“Access is one of the primary tenets to the core mission of Open Education and, even though we talk a lot about Open Educational Resources— that’s free resources for students— it’s just one small part in the much larger picture of access.”

If you are well-versed in Open Education, chances are you know that there are three main branches to the movement: Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Pedagogy, and Open Access. OERs are relatively easy to understand, find, and implement, and it is often used as an accessible entry point into the trickier, more abstract concept of Open Pedagogy. Open Pedagogy is described as a teaching practice that stresses learners as contributors of knowledge, rather than just consumers of knowledge.

Then, there’s Open Access. According to SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, Open Access refers to: 

“…the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access is the needed modern update for the communication of research that fully utilizes the Internet for what it was originally built to do—accelerate research.” (SPARC)

When we talk about Open Education, too often our conversation around "access" stops at Open Access— academic journals without paywalls. Open Access is certainly a piece of access; however, as I listened to Sara Goldrick-Rab speak at KSC, I realized that there’s so much more to it. Access refers to the many free resources, programs, and support systems in place to make college more financially accessible for students. Access fits neatly under the umbrella of Open Education and should be more widely adopted, especially because most proponents of OE are already concerned about the cost of college. Access is associated with the belief that a college education should be obtainable for students, no matter what financial situation they find themselves in. However, as Sara Goldrick-Rab revealed in her talk, this isn't the reality for American college students.

First, a little background for Sara (provided to me by Karen Cangialosi). Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D. is Professor of Higher Education Policy & Sociology at Temple University, and Founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s only research laboratory seeking ways to make college more affordable. She is best known for her innovative research on food and housing insecurity in higher education, having led the two largest national studies on the subject, and for her work on making public higher education free. Her latest book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream is an Amazon best-seller and a 2018 winner of the Grawemeyer Award.

On Thursday, Sara began her talk by describing some of the dark realities of today’s students, revealed by her research with the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. Public college tuition prices are higher than they’ve ever been, because states are providing less funding. Families’ incomes haven’t risen to match these prices. More students are receiving the Pell Grant than ever before, but the value of the grant has dropped. Even after receiving federal aid, 90% of all Pell Grant recipients come out of college with debt.

Students are working their way through college, but at jobs where the value of minimum wage is at an all-time low (and their tips are being taxed more than ever). Growing numbers of college students have a child or family to support, and simply can’t make their way through college successfully while also working full-time jobs. Many drop out of college and have to pay back their student loans without the help of a college degree. Food insecurity, the inability to get access to nutritious food on a regular basis in a socially acceptable manner, is at an all-time high among college students: an estimated 50-55% are food insecure. A similar number of students are housing insecure, and an estimated 14% are homeless. These students trying to find a better life for themselves by obtaining a college education, instead find themselves struggling even more in the process.

Sara Goldrick-Rab stressed that these problems are fixable, and presented several possible, very doable solutions. These solutions come in the form of various programs, resources, and materials that fall under the umbrella of access:

  1. Activism: Sara stressed that conversations, such as the one KSC started by bringing Sara to campus, are some of the first steps in bringing about change. When we make student stories visible, we create more informed lawmakers, voters, and university faculty.  

  2. Creating a Culture of Care: Faculty have a responsibility to ensure that students are having their basic needs met. This doesn’t mean that professors should start doling out money or offering their couches to students. However, professors, administrators, and other faculty can help in different ways:

  • Find or create Open Educational Resources to use in their classrooms, effectively lowering the cost of textbooks and supplies.
  • Become informed of the various resources available to students and spread the word about them. This includes but is not limited to: Food Stamps (SNAP), food pantries, food scholarships, institution-specific emergency aid funds, or meal plan reallocation.
  • Insert a “Basic Needs Security Statement” into their syllabus. Essentially, this statement tells students that they should inform their professor if they don’t have adequate food or housing. Why? I’ll let Sara explain this one: check our her blog post here.
  • Listen to students. Students know what’s going on in their own lives and the lives of their peers; they are often the ones recognizing these problems and trying to do something about them. Faculty and administration can give students the platform and funding to make change happen.MASLOWS hierarchy of needs

Let’s broaden our understanding Open Education, by including these access-related programs and resources in our initiatives. Sara brought up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in her presentation on Thursday (photo on right courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). When getting a college education, students are trying to achieve self-actualization: problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity. However, many students don’t have their base physiological and safety needs taken care of, meaning self-actualization is impossible. I can’t help but connect this to Open Education. Engaging in Open Educational Resources, Open Pedagogy, and Open Access is part of that top tier of self-actualization. But it is impossible to engage in that top tier, when students don’t have adequate food, shelter, health, and safety. At the core of Open Educational, is care for students. By including programs and resources related to access in our Open Education initiatives, we can prove that this care isn’t just reserved for their learning, but also for students' wellbeing.


Some USNH Resources Available for Students with Financial Needs:

The KSC Hungry Owl Food Pantry

PSU Food Pantry Resources

PSU Emergency Financial Assistance

UNH Cornucopia Food Pantry

If you know of any resources that you would like to add to this list, please contact Administrative Assistant, Hannah Hounsell, @ or on twitter @PalindromicNom

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