I’ve been talking to several schools about how they fund their OpenCourseWare programs. The more I do, the more I see that most OCWs are simply not going to make money. That is not their aim. So what does it mean to be sustainable or self-sustaining? Does it always involve making money? Gary Matkin, Dean of Continuing Education at UC Irvine, argues that a program like OCW can be self-sustaining as long as it provides enough value to justify its own existence at that institution. That value can be seen in terms of outreach, marketing, but it has to be recognized and valued as such. So I wrote a letter to the USU
Dear USU,If you could build a university visitor’s center that would attract over a million different visitors in the first four years of operation — a center your could run maintain with just one or two employees that would draw thousands of learners from all over the world — If you could create such a place, how much would that be worth to you? Guess what? You already have it. It’s called USU OpenCourseWare, and it’s already paid for. So how much would you be willing to pay to keep this virtual visitor’s center working for you? Would it be worth $10,000 per month to attract 43,000 monthly visitors (not just random visitors, but people actively seeking educational content) to a USU website, ready to learn? That’s what it would cost to continue to develop USU’s OpenCourseWare site, adding new courses to the showcase each semester. Of course this site is more than a marketing effort. There is value for existing students and faculty to be able to access this course content as well — especially during Blackboard outages. OpenCourseWare courses are available without a password for anyone to use. And they are definitely being noticed. In fact, USU has an international reputation as one of the best OCWs in the world, especially for its agriculture course materials. USU OpenCourseWare is listed alongside MIT, Notre Dame, and Yale OCWs. So how do we justify paying $120,000 each year for an OpenCourseWare program? I would ask how we justify NOT paying for it.In the past USU has advertised to random travelers in an airline magazine. Surely it must be worth more to attract an audience of learners to a USU website filled with high quality courses for them to examine. Which do you think will attract more prospective students and faculty, a site filled with course materials or an airline ad? So, now that the outside funding is gone, what is a site like USU OpenCourseWare worth in terms of marketing and PR? Is a USU site that consistently attracts 250,000 unique visitors each year worth keeping? Will USU spend its marketing budget on airline ads instead? Please support USU OpenCourseWare so it can continue to showcase content from scores of great USU courses to tens of thousands of interested visitors every month. Many of those virtual visitors will be seeking a degree sooner than you think.