As Grants Run Out, Universities Pony Up Cash for OpenCourseWare

It’s been a good month for people who worry about the sustainability of open-education projects.

First, a Brigham Young University study found that offering free online access to distance-education course materials doesn’t hurt paid enrollment, giving a boost to those who think the best business model for publishing free content is one that dangles it as bait to draw in students for paid courses.

Now many leaders in the world of open education — a movement whose original projects were largely financed by foundation grants — are ponying up their own cash to keep free courses thriving.

On Monday more than a dozen universities and groups pledged a total of $350,000 over five years to support the OpenCourseWare Consortium, an association that promotes the publication of free content like lecture videos, assignments, and syllabi.

The donors, listed here, include the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and the University of Michigan.

Their money will support an association focused on helping new members get projects off the ground, sharing best practices, and promoting global awareness of open educational resources. The Massachusetts-based nonprofit has an annual budget of about $750,000, largely supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that runs out in the 2012 fiscal year, according to Stephen E. Carson, president of the consortium.

He isn’t uncorking the champagne quite yet, though.

“We will still require grant and sponsor support for a few years beyond the Hewlett grant,” Mr. Carson said in an e-mail message, “but this demonstrates that the schools involved have real skin in the game and puts us on a good trajectory.”

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