The past year has challenged higher education leaders like never before, forcing us to examine old assumptions and rapidly scale new ways to serve students, all while facing major financial constraints.
The University of St. Francis, where I am president, spent the past year navigating this rapid evolution while also (virtually) celebrating our Centennial year. With this historic milestone, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the changes we’ve made over the past few years to make a difference for students, and for the future of the institution.
One change that has made a big difference in our ability to serve students at scale—and ensure their continued persistence—is our use of online course sharing to support student progress over the summer.
Summer term can be a challenging time. Students need access to a variety of courses, but enrollments are often small, and the pool of available faculty to teach courses is limited. When students don’t immediately see the courses they need, they often turn to other institutions to enroll in summer courses. This approach seems simple enough, but it has a surprising number of negative consequences for students, faculty, and stakeholders on campus like the Registrar. Let’s look at how this seemingly simple process can undermine both student and institutional success.
TRANSFER CREDIT ROULETTE
When students decide to take courses off campus, they typically assume that all courses are created equal. Students are thinking about progressing along their academic path; they’re not thinking about the specifics of course quality, articulation, and whether the transfer course will set them up for success in the subsequent courses they need to complete their major.
Like most institutions, the University of St. Francis has a transfer course approval process, but, as we know, students sometimes ignore this process or choose another course at the last minute; these students are effectively playing “transfer credit roulette”. When courses aren’t accepted and transcripted by the home institution, students end up losing significant time and money, and missing out on academic progress.
COURSE QUALITY MATTERS
When students complete courses at outside institutions, their home institution has very little to no role in controlling for course quality, faculty credentials, assessments, and academic values alignment. Challenges with this lack of external course quality often show up when students move into upper-level courses and discover that the previous course did not prepare them for success. This is a challenge for faculty, and, more importantly, it puts student outcomes and retention at risk.
HOW COURSE SHARING HELPED
Prior to 2018, my university struggled with the challenges associated with off-campus summer enrollments, and the associated loss of quality control. I’m proud to say that we’ve found a transformative solution to these problems through course sharing.
Back in 2017, over 100 of our students enrolled at outside institutions during the summer term. Despite our greatest efforts, we were only able to reduce off campus enrollments by 15% on our own between the summers of 2015 to 2017 before the implementation of course sharing unlocked greater capacity to recapture 94% of “leaked” enrollments the following year in 2018 (more on this in the video below). When we can’t offer a needed course, we are now able to serve virtually every student through online course sharing. This is a huge win in terms of the student experience, and a huge time saver for our registrar’s office.
When course sharing is in place, students don’t have to apply to another school, be admitted, pay another institution, and manage the hassle of requesting and submitting transcripts. Everything is handled through our campus, just like a typical course. Similarly, the Registrar doesn’t have to spend time going back-and forth between the student and the department to get an external course approved, articulated, and transcripted.
As a member of the Council of Independent Colleges, we participate in the CIC’s Online Course Sharing Consortium (CIC-OCSC).This consortium of 250 institutions with similar academic philosophies to the University of St. Francis makes it possible for our faculty to pre-approve courses that meet our quality expectations.
Before approving courses, faculty can see syllabi, faculty credentials, and even assessment information. This helps us to ensure the equivalency of content and coverage, and to ensure students are prepared for success in subsequent courses.
UNLOCKING NEW REVENUE
Along with improving course quality and simplifying the student experience, course sharing has brought back over $50,000 in revenue to the institution every summer. This is revenue that can be reinvested on campus to support a variety of initiatives, from supporting new programs to funding faculty projects.
Like all institutions, the University of St. Francis has limited resources. Course sharing allows us to deploy those resources where they are most needed while offering high-quality online courses to our students when we can’t offer a course ourselves. For example, one summer, we enrolled 15 students in a CIC-OSCS introduction to literature course. Knowing we have enough demand for that course over summer term, the next summer we were able to offer it ourselves.
Through our partnership with Acadeum, we’ve built a scalable, sustainable way to serve students that is truly a win for everyone involved. Course sharing is a powerful way to support students over the summer term. I recently spoke about the impact of course sharing at the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute. Check out the video above.
I encourage every institution to get started with course sharing by exploring and pre-approving high-demand summer courses through Acadeum to help you serve every student’s needs in the upcoming summer term.