Community Colleges Seek to Share Classes Online

A national online course-sharing consortium for community colleges aims to expand access to online learning. It’s also an attempt to relieve budgetary and enrollment pressures after a particularly challenging year.

May 27, 2021
 
Courtesy of the League for Innovation in the Community College
The League for Innovation in the Community College is launching a new online course-sharing consortium today.

Hundreds of community colleges could one day share online courses after the launch of a new network called the League for Innovation Online Course Sharing Consortium.

The League for Innovation in the Community College, a nonprofit membership group whose mission is to cultivate innovation in community colleges, announced the launch of the new online course-sharing consortium today.

The course-sharing consortium will be open to League for Innovation in the Community College members to join. The membership group currently has a few hundred institutional members, most of which are based in the U.S., but some of which are also located internationally.

The League for Innovation Online Course Sharing Consortium will work with a company, Acadeum, to establish online course-sharing partnerships between participating institutions. The company will provide a course-sharing platform as well as administrative support to the consortium.

Consortium Members

The following community colleges are currently participating in the newly formed League for Innovations Online Course Sharing Consortium:

  • Austin Community College in Texas
  • Lamar Institute of Technology in Texas
  • Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania
  • Tarrant County Community College in Texas
  • Yavapai Community College in Arizona

“This new consortium will help community colleges better meet learners’ needs by arranging student access to courses that are unavailable at their home institutions,” said Cynthia Wilson, vice president for learning and chief impact officer for the League for Innovation in the Community College, in a statement. “This initiative is also about harnessing the collective expertise and capacity of community colleges to improve flexibility in scheduling for students seeking in-demand courses.”

University and college consortia that enable institutions to share resources have existed for decades, but there are relatively few higher ed consortia dedicated to online course sharing. Even fewer were specifically created to support online course sharing for community colleges. The leaders of the League for Innovation Online Course Sharing Consortium believe their network is the first to facilitate online course sharing for community colleges at a national level. 

By acting as an intermediary between institutions that are sharing online courses, Acadeum can reduce many of the headaches associated with course sharing for college administrators, instructors and students, said Joshua Pierce, co-founder and CEO of the company.

Acadeum draws up partnership agreements between participating institutions, ensures all the necessary state rules and accreditation requirements are being met, and handles finances so that students can continue paying tuition to their home institution, even as they take classes that are delivered by another institution. Course sharing within the new consortium is likely to be up and running this fall, said Pierce. 

Acadeum manages dozens of consortia comprised of four-year institutions. But it previously had just one consortium for public two-year institutions -- a network of community colleges in Texas called Digitex. Digitex, also known as the Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas, covers 50 community college districts in the state. Of those, 18 are currently active in sharing online courses through the partnership between Acadeum and Digitex, but more may join in the future.

So far, five community colleges have signed up to participate in the League for Innovation Online Course Sharing Consortium, including two Texas-based community colleges that already participate in class sharing through Digitex. Four of the institutions that have signed up to participate in the new national course-sharing consortium will be offering their existing online classes to students from other member institutions. One, the Lamar Institute of Technology in Texas, will not offer any online classes but has indicated interest in its students attending classes taught by the other institutions. 

The Lamar Institute of Technology joined the consortium in order to provide additional courses to students to meet pathway initiatives and address human capital issues, said a spokesperson for Acadeum in an email. The institution told Acadeum that it was having particular difficulty finding enough qualified math instructors and that it later hopes to offer online technology courses through the consortium.

Establishing course-sharing partnerships between community colleges, particularly when they are located in different states with their own regulations and requirements as well as different tuition pricing, is more complex than establishing partnerships between four-year institutions, said Pierce. Community colleges often have a lot of autonomy, and there are multiple offices dealing with student billing and other administrative functions, he said.

The success of Digitex's partnership with Acadeum was central to getting members of the League for Innovation in the Community College on board with the idea that online course sharing could work among their member institutions, said Rufus Glasper, president and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

"Acadeum came to us and believed this model was replicable and scalable -- they wanted to try and take it nationwide," said Glasper.

Community colleges had a very difficult year in 2020 and are still trying to figure out how to encourage many of the students who dropped out of college or delayed their attendance to come back, said Glasper. College completion is a central goal of the consortium, he said.

"Twenty twenty is being talked about as the 'lost generation' of community college students," said Glasper. "It might take us a period of five years or more to get back on track."

By offering classes from other institutions in the League, students can access educational opportunities that might not be offered at their home institution, said Glasper. They can also have increased flexibility.

From the college's perspective, sharing online courses allows institutions to use their resources much more efficiently, said Pierce. It can also provide support if an instructor suddenly becomes ill or an institution has difficulty hiring qualified individuals.

"The timing of this consortium is great," said Glasper. "It's an opportunity for us to see what impact course sharing might have in terms of enrollment and offering the flexibility that the colleges would like to have."

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