Online course sharing spurs student success

Sharing online courses can save money, and boost retention and graduation rates.

Small liberal arts colleges share online courses in an emerging trend that saves money, and boosts retention and graduation rates, says Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). Schools can partner with campuses across the U.S., rather than just those in the same region.

Saving courses from the ax

Wesleyan College in Georgia began sharing with Claflin University in South Carolina through a CIC grant. Claflin students took two Wesleyan courses that would have been cut due to low enrollment. Both institutions benefited, says Melody A. Blake, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs of Wesleyan.

“It’s important to find an institution that has the same philosophy and interests as your college.”

Wesleyan began sharing more online courses through another CIC grant before joining the College Consortium, a for-profit that identifies sharing partners, vets classes and spearheads accreditation.

Taking courses shared by other schools helps Wesleyan students stay on track to graduate. “When you’re a small institution and you have a student who wants to graduate in four years but got out of sequence—maybe she studied abroad or took a semester off—you want to provide her with more classes
so she can achieve that,” Blake says.

Costs to students and colleges

Online course sharing costs vary by institution, says Vice Provost Brenda S. Nichols of Lamar University in Texas, which shares with many liberal arts colleges that don’t offer summer classes. “Colleges using our courses can adjust our price depending on financial aid and other requirements.” And overall, online courses cost less to offer. “The technology to keep the course functioning correctly is expensive, but you are not using classroom space, electricity or gas so it’s a trade-off,” says Nichols.

Streamlining processes for online courses

In Illinois, Augustana College leaders sought a larger course selection for students. Since Augustana doesn’t offer concurrent enrollment, officials added online courses from Luther College in Iowa to its summer program.

Augustana will also begin sharing online courses with other colleges this summer. “We wanted to streamline our process for nondegree students first,” says Wendy Hilton-Morrow, vice president of academic affairs, provost and dean. Since nondegree students usually live near campus, the school requires in-person registration.

For online students, administrators must identify the parts of the process they can cut before accepting students this summer.

“Online course sharing will be the future of higher ed,” says Blake. “It just makes sense.”

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