The student success data for 2022 is disheartening and familiar: less than half of students graduate on time in the United States. Even after six years, less than 60 percent four-year college students earned a bachelor’s degree. Since the start of the pandemic, registration in colleges and universities declined strongly. If these trends continue, we will face significant losses in student learning and potential in the United States.
One of the reasons for these trends in higher education is that students don’t always have access to the courses they need to graduate on time. Students preparing for their degree are often confused by the inability to earn or transfer credits. According to a 2020 Eduventures study, 18% of students said that ensuring course transfer is the hardest part of the process and they often end up wasting credits as well as limited time and money.
A simple way to address these challenges is to develop and expand course sharing in a state-to-state mode of delivery. Course sharing within a state, system, or consortium is common practice. Through innovative new collaborations, institutions can partner with each other to offer cross-state course sharing that allows students to access the courses they need to graduate.
A common scenario may be that only one school in a state offers a specific program, for example, agriculture. If this state wishes to offer its agriculture students more course or degree options than their single location, not only must these schools look beyond their institutional walls, but they may also have to look beyond the borders of their state. Likewise, states without such a program can seek outside their own state for their students who wish to pursue this program of study.
On the international scene, sharing across borders is more common. Many institutions have already implemented the sharing of courses and programs across borders. More … than 450 universities around the world have established partnerships in 2021 alone to accelerate progress towards their corporate goals. But American colleges and universities have traditionally been slow to embrace these interstate-institutional partnerships.
How to help students get the credits they need
Institutions have implemented a wide range of policies to help students graduate on time, and collaboration is welcomed by higher education leaders as a means of fostering the success of institutions and students.
They must now capitalize on widely used technology to link educational offerings and remove geographic constraints. Interstate course sharing can give students access to programs that may not be available in their home state, such as those based on very specific regional strengths. For example, few institutions could hope to match the expertise that Napa Valley College or Sonoma State University bring to their courses related to viticulture and winemaking.
Course-sharing technology allows institutions to extend their reach to remote or location-bound students, expand options for underserved or disabled students, and solve complex transfer requirements. Most importantly, it allows students to earn and transfer inter-institutional credit with confidence, helping them graduate on time. Extending this solution to interstate collaborations dramatically increases options for students and improves their ability to graduate in a timely manner.
Transfer Articulation Agreements
Transfer articulation agreements are crucial to any interstate effort to share courses and programs. These agreements allow course credit from one school to be transferred to a degree from another school and may include specific general education and program requirements as well as established transfer pathways. The educational institution’s accreditation status and acceptance of transfer credits at the home institution must be considered, which can be difficult when different accreditors are involved.
Yet these practices are not new, and agreements are already in place to allow schools to accept transfer credits from institutions outside the state. Students attending college in one state but returning home for the summer may take classes at a local institution and wish to transfer those credits to their “main” institution.
Institution-to-institution or system-to-system agreements can help resolve any transfer difficulties. States can join the National Council of State Authorization Reciprocal Agreements (NC-SARA) to participate in cross-state online course sharing. This voluntary membership offers a reciprocal approach to state oversight of post-secondary distance education. When institutions participate in SARA, they agree to a set of compliance requirements that members have approved.
Leverage new lesson sharing solutions
Successful course sharing should be transparent by showing students exactly how their credits will or will not transfer. There are course sharing partners who can facilitate this, or institutions can join networks that allow them to find like-minded partners who might want to collaborate.
A course sharing network can provide access to experts with experience in this area and help institutions overcome obstacles, including getting the right agreements in place. Existing course sharing networks can also handle the integration of multiple student information systems and the automation of financial aid workflows.
We must renew our commitment to defining institutional success as student success. Innovative networks now exist to enable institutions to establish effective and efficient program sharing across states. We can leverage this technology to empower students to achieve their goals and graduate on time.
Jay Field is senior vice president for institutional partnerships at Quottly.