It’s been less than a month since the U.S. Labor Department announced $500 million in grants for community colleges to develop job-training programs and make them free for other institutions to use, but the program is already facing a threat to its existence.
A provision in the proposed House of Representatives budget for fiscal year 2012 would stop the federal government from using grant programs to develop new courses, learning materials or other related projects unless the labor secretary verifies that similar programs are not already available for purchase or "under development."
The move is a boon to publishers, who have feared that government support for the freely available, modifiable course materials, known as “open educational resources,” or OERs, would eat into their profits and give the free programs an unfair advantage. If effective programs are already for sale, they argue, the federal government shouldn’t spend extra money to reinvent the wheel.
Advocates for community colleges and online education argued that the provision, if enacted, would stifle innovation and restrict colleges to the publishers’ more expensive programs.
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