College students spend most of their time online. It can be argued that most classes are hybrid classes, with online components being a major part of the curriculum. But online classes differ from open course ware in that open course ware is for independent learning.
Open course ware allows students to gain comparable education to traditional classrooms, on their own schedule. And it's free. These are the two highlights of how open course ware could be utilized to foster affordability and access to students, as well as encouraging graduation.
Students can learn about the subject on their own time, which is a valuable resource for lower-income families, who must split their time between jobs and sustaining their families and lives. Being free for students is one half of the cost equation. Open course ware is also very low cost for institutions. Uploading and maintaining the documents, fixed costs, make up the majority of the cost. Contrast this to traditional education, which requires physical facilities and administration, both expenditures which have been increased in volume since the past, but unable to keep up with the greater demand for higher education. Open course ware allows scalability.
Many students first attend community college to earn credit for their basic classes, and then transfer to a bigger institution for the more specialized classes.
Why is this? It's cheaper, and easier. But then why move to another institution? Because for these specialized classes, the professor relationship and collaboration with peers becomes the focus for education, contrasting to basic classes, which are largely homogeneous across institutions. These higher division classes are the core of higher institutions, and differentiates them from others. The focus of these higher institutions should be on these classes, not exploratory or decisive as lower division classes are meant to be.
Open course ware credit could be administered in a similar manner as Advanced Placement testing by the College Board. Students could educate themselves on the course and then register for an exam that would determine their eligibility for credit. Direct access to lectures and other materials also gives another value to both the student and institution: greater motivation. The students gain a better understanding of higher education, and can explore areas of interest, without spending money for the classes, and the risk of later determining that the subject is uninteresting or too difficult, a waste of time and money on one hand, and a Grade Point Average wound on the other.
If open course ware becomes a more available route to credits, like Advanced Placement testing or community college, it would give access for lower-income, time sensitive individuals to an affordable education that would even enlighten or uncover their specialization interests, resulting in more dedicated students who have a focused plan to graduate.
The idea of open course ware as an alternative, as opposed to traditional institutions, which are more expensive and rigid, advanced placement tests in high school, or community college, has been explored by some key players who could help create momentum to give open course ware for credit greater credibility and availability.
Currently, a few institutions are prototyping this method of education, including MIT. http://www.sfgate.com/business/technology/article/For-1st-time-MIT-s-free-online-classes-can-carry-6556128.php
Founded by Harvard University and MIT, edX.org is another ongoing collaborative open course ware for credit institution. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2011/12/21/m-i-t-game-changer-free-online-education-for-all/