Implementing Sustainable Innovation: Course Sharing for Community Colleges
Much like online learning, the concept of course sharing is not new; for decades, college students have taken classes at nearby schools that offer seats for visiting learners. In fact, online course sharing originated in community colleges in the late 1990s (Walker, 2021). Today, given the recent transformations within higher education, alongside great strides in technology, the modes through which course sharing can occur now span across individual institutions, consortia, and online platforms and networks. Thousands of colleges and universities across the U.S. use course sharing frameworks to revitalize their curriculum, launch new academic programs, and expand course offerings. But how can community colleges specifically leverage this opportunity to achieve their strategic goals and implement sustainable innovations?
Ensuring Student and Institutional Advancement
Community college students often face significant obstacles on their educational journey—affordability, work-life balance, inaccessible online classes—that impede their progress (Porter & Umbach, 2019). As a vehicle to mitigate these challenges, course sharing supports student success, increases access to flexible course options, and provides more equitable access to educational opportunities. Ultimately, course sharing helps community colleges connect students to the courses they need while also:
- Reducing instructional costs and continuing to support guided and transfer pathways;
- Filling curriculum gaps when faculty are unavailable;
- Serving new student populations, including high school and dual enrollment learners;
- Overcoming capacity issues that delay student progress; and
- Ensuring that students maintain velocity to completion.
In addition to the benefits outlined above, course sharing posits tangible opportunities for curricular innovation. By launching new academic programs—certifications, dual enrollment, early college, or tri-credit—colleges and universities are expediting curricular advancement without making a significant revenue commitment. Institutions are also harnessing the power of professional certifications as a way to provide career-aligned pathways and market-competitive courses. Enhancing current curriculum while offering new, cutting-edge learning experiences is a reality brought to life by course sharing.
The benefits of course sharing in higher education include student persistence and degree completion, equitable access, and increased institutional revenue. Community colleges taking advantage of course sharing are well positioned to serve their students and fulfill their missions to remain agents of change in the field of education.
Course Sharing Best Practices
The adaptability of course sharing is one of its many advantages, as the process can accommodate a variety of learners and institutions: nonprofit institutions, for-profit institutions, two-year colleges, four-year colleges, HBCUs, HSIs, MSIs, NASNTIs, and so on. Three course sharing best practices for use by any college are outlined below.
Set a Foundation for Course Sharing
With a well-defined course sharing strategy and plan, advisors and faculty gain a general understanding of the value of this resource on campus. Defining a course sharing process and communicating the process to key campus stakeholders will establish a strong foundation. Campuses can implement a data-driven approach to find where course sharing can make an immediate impact by identifying catalog gaps and potential course equivalencies for courses that are often under-enrolled, canceled, sequenced, or waitlisted. Using transfer equivalency tables or articulation agreements may also identify supplemental course offerings that can create transfer pathways to four-year degrees.
Align Course Sharing to the Strategic Goals of the Campus
Course sharing can expand catalog capacity, create academic and workforce-aligned programs, deliver micro-credentials and stackable certificates, and reach new populations of learners. In addition, these solutions provide the opportunity to align with overarching campus goals of increasing retention, generating new revenue, and improving process efficiencies to create a superior student experience.
Sustain Student Success Through Ongoing, Cross-Departmental Collaboration
Cross-department collaboration is an essential factor for course sharing success. For example, a successful course sharing project team typically includes representation from academic affairs, the registrar’s office, finance, advising, and student success. This cross-functional team allows institutions to accelerate the use and impact of course sharing, especially those looking to advance degree completion and operate more efficiently and innovatively.
The Future of Course Sharing for Community Colleges
For many reasons, making predictions about the future of education can be a gamble. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s the need for flexibility, adaptability, and supportive infrastructure. Given the ongoing efforts to restore, or improve, pre-pandemic education, course sharing is one solution that has the potential to accelerate this process, particularly for community colleges. While the future of course sharing looks bright, that success relies on collaboration between all stakeholders within the education space—institutions, networks, and organizations—especially as education and course sharing continue to evolve.
Porter, S. R., & Umbach, P. D. (2019). What challenges to success do community college students face? Revealing Institutional Strengths and Challenges. https://risc.college/sites/default/files/2019-01/RISC_2019_report_natl.pdf
Walker, H. (2021, June 16). Important events in the history of digital higher education: Course sharing through Mind Extension University. Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas. https://digitex.org/2021/06/16/important-events-in-the-history-of-digital-higher-education-course-sharing-through-mind-extension-university
Editor’s Note: The League for Innovation Online Course Sharing Consortium is powered by Acadeum. It enables Board and Alliance institutions to seamlessly share online courses to support students and solve institutional challenges.
Salma Reyes is Director, Partner Success, at Acadeum.
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.