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In late 2020, the Michelson 20MM Foundation awarded a grant to Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust (Partners) centered on the affordability strategies of the governing boards of U.S. higher education institutions or systems. Partners is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to making high-quality, affordable college education a reality for all Americans. They are committed to accelerating the widespread adoption of public policies and institutional practices that improve quality and lower costs at America’s public colleges and universities. They translate good ideas into action by bridging the gaps between research, policy, and practice.

Lessons from West Hills College

The project Michelson 20MM supported seeks to explain the role governing board members play in bringing about affordability measures and their relationship with college executives and their agendas. Specifically, our grant supported a study of West Hills College’s focus on its textbook affordability initiative and the role its governing board played in driving implementation of this innovative, cost-saving measure for students.

In 2016, the board adopted an audacious initial policy of developing open educational resources (OER) for “at a minimum, 80% of all degree-applicable programs in the first year.” This bold policy containing a lofty, measurable goal helped fuel the school’s “OERevolution,” which, at West Hills College Lemoore where the initiative originated, has resulted in $6 million of savings for students, $3 million in just the last two years. Most impressively, by the fall of 2021 at West Hills College Lemoore, roughly 60% of courses will be delivered via OER or as low textbook cost courses, defined as less than $40.

A Concerted Effort

In their study of these efforts, Partners highlighted seven key findings, which were instrumental in the affordability initiative’s success.

1. West Hills College examined where it could control cost of attendance and targeted the elimination of textbook costs that exceeded tuition.

2. College board members and staff operate by a guiding principle whereby textbook costs are viewed as a financial barrier to student success that must be overcome.

3. The adoption of a board policy in 2016, with its audacious quantitative goal, helped fuel the college’s adoption of OER.

4. The college’s small size and nimble team culture enabled aggressive implementation.

5. The proliferation of OER within the college required champions.

6. A formal committee structure accelerated faculty buy-in.

7. Branding and communications campaigns have been critical to persuading audiences to participate.

You can review the full details of the findings here. Our hope is that these lessons from West Hills College will spur action by other local governing boards to take dramatic action around the issue of textbook affordability in California and nationwide.

Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Learn more at www.20mm.org.