Small colleges struggle to offer the courses students want and need to take – due to limited resources.
This problem can result in low enrollment, poor retention, and dissatisfied students. Some schools are solving their course availability issues through collaboration.
Dr. Diana Comuzzie, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Schreiner University, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about creative ways to improve course availability for students through consortium partnerships.
CIC’s Online Course Sharing Consortium
Schreiner turned to the Council of Independent Colleges’ partner called College Consortium for help with students who needed courses the school couldn’t offer.
Athletes who had lost their eligibility, for example, needed to regain it quickly. And students on academic probation needed to get off it before parents decided to pull the plug on private school tuition payments.
“So as I notified students that they were being put on probation,” Diana said, “I also gave them an avenue off of probation. We feel like this is really important, particularly for helping students who are trying to talk to their parents about why they should continue at an institution that might have higher tuition than a community college.”
It’s a way students can say, “Here’s how my institution has got my back, and how they’re helping me get out of trouble.”
How Course Sharing Availability Improves Academic Planning
The consortium allows member schools to offer courses more efficiently.
As Diana explained it to us, “Maybe you have to run a course because you’ve got a senior who needs it, and you can now continue to run it with lower enrollment, pulling in enrollment from other institutions.”
You can also send students out to take other courses.
The program has allowed Schreiner to explore a new area for them, criminal justice. “We were hearing that students wanted to take it,” Diana said, “but we weren’t sure what the demand was, and so this allowed us … to offer it to students and see how many of our students enrolled.”
Online Course Sharing’s Revenue Share Model
Many institutions simply put all their courses on a website and let the students choose what they wish to take. Schreiner doesn’t do that.
“We have one set tuition price, so whether you take 12 hours or 18 hours you pay that one tuition,” Diana said, “and we wanted to make this as easy for our students as possible. So we run all of our enrollments through our registrar’s office.”
College Consortium, the organization behind all this, handles all the billing. So they send the money to the institution doing the teaching, and they bill Schreiner.
“We pay College Consortium,” Diana explained, “and then College Consortium sends the money on to the other institution.”
Faculty Response to Online Course Sharing
“This was not our first foray into consortiums,” Diana said. “We’re part of a consortium here in Texas that delivers synchronous courses to each other, and so the student is sitting in a classroom with other students here at Schreiner, and then they might be beamed in to an instructor who’s sitting at, let’s say Texas Lutheran University, with another set of classes.”
That meant the faculty had already worked out the kinks in the consortium system. They started with languages. At many small institutions, students want to take a foreign language such as Arabic when the school only offers, say, Spanish. That’s what sparked Schreiner’s interest in consortia. It worked with languages.
Faculty members quickly saw the power of this model and took the opportunity to dust off some great course ideas. A niche course that would never make it in a school as small as Schreiner might generate enough interest if offered online as part of a consortium.
“As a matter of fact,” Diana said, “we at Schreiner developed an entire minor in Texas studies …. Everybody might teach, in this case, maybe a Texas history, but they don’t teach everything else, natural history of Texas or something like that, and we could offer that out to people.”
Next-Steps Advice for Universities Considering Online Course Sharing
If you want to share courses at your school, you’ve got to figure out what works for you. Maybe that’s a course through a third-party provider, such as the correspondence classes of old. That can work great in some situations.
In other instances, though, you don’t want a student to be in a course all by themselves. You lose engagement, interaction, and the feel of a college course.
“These two consortia that we are involved in allow us to manage that situation,” Diana said. “For example, an athlete who’s on the road and who’s taking a course needs an
asynchronous course because they need to be able to tap into it at night when they’re in their hotel rooms studying.”
Some institutions are looking at this as an economic model but not Schreiner. They’re focused on how to help a student graduate. That means that although Schreiner doesn’t offer this model at a loss, they also don’t make a lot of money off of
It, either. Some institutions do, though.
“So I think the next step for institutions is to find which kind of thing works for you,” Diana told us.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.