New college course-sharing network wants to help students graduate

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Complete College America, a nonprofit that develops strategies and policy to boost college completion rates, announced last month it wants to build a national network of higher education institutions offering students more online options. In an interview with EdScoop, one of the organization’s leaders told EdScoop the group could allow institutions to realize some of their longstanding ambitions when it comes to digital learning.

CCA announced a partnership with the online course-sharing platform Acadeum on Sept. 30 to build out the consortium, offering the thousand-plus colleges and universities within its 47 member states and networks a chance to join. Nia Haydel, the nonprofit’s vice president for alliance engagement and institutional transformation, said online-course sharing is a complement to the strategies that the group advises for colleges and universities looking to improve student success. (These include mapping out student degree pathways, ensuring students can earn 15 credits a semester and offering math classes that complement a student’s major, instead of a set math curriculum.)

“Digital learning is an area that has not always been able to be moved forward at some of these institutions, not because of lack of desire, but because of lack of resources to create the infrastructure to support this type of learning and just not having the capacity for it,” Haydel said. “This partnership is really exciting for us because it allows us to make accessible something that the institutions want to do but oftentimes have not been able to provide.”

CCA also often works with many minority-serving institutions that could benefit from the network, Haydel said. CCA recently received a $1 million grant from the Lumina Foundation to improve college completion rates at predominantly Black and historically Black community colleges.

Acadeum co-founder Josh Pierce said when CCA and Acadeum started working together, the two organizations aligned on their purpose for using the platform — that course sharing isn’t “collaboration for collaboration’s sake,” but is intentionally designed to meet student needs.

“You’ve actually got the chance to help students who are struggling in a local course, but that’s the only version that’s offered,” Pierce said. “Or [students] who need [a class] now for that progress on other things, but that school can only run it one time, a term or even every other year. That’s where having access to high-quality, but very accessible online courses can drastically expand what schools do.”

Institutions pay a fee to access Acadeum courses, and colleges posting courses pay administrative costs, but there are discounts for joining the CCA network. Students pay tuition to take the courses offered through Acadeum. As part of the CCA consortium, member institutions sign a “consortium agreement” outlining the terms for financial aid, tuition and how grades are posted and transfer.

Acadeum hosts about 325 networks for sharing courses, which are usually tiny and specialized, unlike the CCA’s planned consortium, Pierce said. Other consortiums include members of the Council of Independent Colleges, a network for private institutions, and the Higher Education Course Recovery Consortium, launched in 2020 to help institutions that didn’t have the infrastructure to immediately offer online courses during the coronavirus pandemic. Other institutions have developed their own digital tools for making in-person and digital course transfer easier, like Arizona State University’s course-mapping tool.

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