OpenCourseWare Cash Woes Drive Search for New Revenue Sources

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OCW’s budget saw a $500,000 decrease in the 2009 fiscal year. Plans for increased revenue include a “Course Champions” pilot campaign and continued use of referral links.
Jessica Liu—The Tech

MIT’s OpenCourseWare is in danger of running out of funding by the 2012 fiscal year at current expense levels, according to the executive director of OCW, Cecilia d’Oliveira ’77.

During the past fiscal year, OCW reduced its original $4.1 million budget by $500,000, cut an open staff position, and renegotiated technology service contracts, all in an effort to promote financial sustainability.

OCW might also seek to generate revenue by providing the foundational course materials for new degree-granting, long-distance education programs. OCW has enlisted the assistance of a pro bono team from the management-consulting firm Bain & Company in aligning these efforts with OCW’s mission and principles.

According to d’Oliveira, OCW publishes about 80 new courses and updates about 120 already-documented courses each year. “This level of publishing allows us to keep the core MIT GIR and elective courses, as well as courses that are important components of departmental degree programs, relatively up-to-date with respect to the curriculum in use at MIT,” d’Oliveira said. “Further reductions in scope would cause the OCW site to become significantly out-of-date, reducing its value for students as an advising support tool and as relevant supplemental materials for the courses they are taking. For our global audience, it would mean that the materials don’t reflect as closely the state of the art for subjects taught at MIT.”

Since its launch in 2002, close to 60 million viewers have used OCW, with more than 90 percent reporting the materials were relevant to their projects, according to evaluation research conducted by the OCW staff.

OCW currently gets the bulk of its funding from grants and Institute funds, according to an article in the September/October faculty newsletter by d’Oliveira and Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman ’72.

“Key elements of technology savings included taking advantage of free video hosting on YouTube for the expanding collection of highly popular video materials, moving video production in-house, and renegotiating contracts with some of our technology service providers,” wrote Lerman and d’Oliveira in the newsletter piece.

OCW is also seeking to increase revenue through fundraising. A new leadership gifts office at MIT’s Resource Development Office will work part time on soliciting major gifts for OCW.

And, referral links to from the OCW site have already generated $30,000.

OCW’s online donation program has generated a modest income of about $150,000, an increase of about 50 percent from the 2008 fiscal year.

In the 2010 fiscal year, OCW will be testing a variety of funding approaches. A “Course Champions” campaign will target “individual donors of $5,000 per year and a corporate underwriting program in the style of National Public Radio,” according to Lerman and d’Oliveira’s faculty newsletter article.