Top of Mind with Tambellini Group

Course Sharing Among Institutions

April 13, 2021 Tambellini Group Season 4 Episode 36
Top of Mind with Tambellini Group
Course Sharing Among Institutions
Show Notes Transcript

The Council of Independent Colleges has created a course-sharing consortium. The platform allows students to take digital courses offered by other institutions similar to their own. In this episode, Katelyn Ilkani talks with Dr. Bryan Boatright, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs and University Registrar at the University of Mount Union. Dr. Boatright explains how the course sharing works, shares lessons learned, and highlights some successes of the consortium.

Speaker 1:

Welcome back to Tambellini's Top of Mind Podcast. I'm Katelyn Ilkani, your host, and I'm joined today by Dr. Bryan Boatright. Bryan is from the University of Mount Union. He's the assistant vice president for academic affairs and university registrar. And he's with us today for a very unique topic. We're going to be talking about how the council of independent colleges has created a course-sharing consortium. We'll be hearing from Bryan about lessons learned how the consortium works and earliest success stories around course sharing. Welcome to the show, Bryan.

Speaker 2:

Thanks, Katelyn. I appreciate you having me on , uh, so as you said, I have this really long title and I've been with the University of Mount Union now for about five years and have been in higher ed for a little over a decade.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. I know we're going to learn a lot today because this is a hot topic goes , you and I were talking about before we started the show, you've taken an approach to courses like a platform would almost like you would see with something like Udemy or Pluralsight is looking at sharing courses. So before we dig into much, can you share an overview of what the consortium is and how your institution in particular got started?

Speaker 2:

Sure. So the simplest way to describe it. So consortia have been around for decades. The technology is relatively new though. So , uh, in a nutshell, what it is is we are a group of colleges and universities that are similar , um, that share courses for our students back and forth through a platform that we use, which in our case is called Acadeum that's the company that runs that platform. It's pretty simple students get on find courses that they need that might fit the curriculum gap that they have at Mount Union or at their other school. And then take that course from another institution. And then it comes back to our institution to fill that gap , similar to a transient course that a student might take over the summer at a community college. So let's say , um, and bring it back to the institution for credits, GPA , and progression. Um, interestingly enough, the way , uh, the University of Mount Union got started was not , um, uh, what we're using it for now. Uh, so a couple of years ago, and it's, it's been a relatively short timeline for the university. Um, as, you know, a lot of times at higher ed, it can take years to , to get anywhere , uh, to, to an end point, but , um, we're in a different time. And so prior to the pandemic , uh , we were looking for , um, a way at the University of Mount Union to fill the gap in our online offerings in the summer. So what we know, you know, we're a four year residential liberal arts campus and students scattered in the summer. And what we were finding is that many of our students were taking courses at other institutions and then bringing them back in so that they could progress in the next year. And that's not new. And that happens at a lot of institutions and what we never expected that we were going to stop that from happening because we , we actually encourage it because we think that it gives the students more well-rounded approach to their education. But , um, how do we capture some of that? So they take those courses here at Mount Union, right? So we started diving into online the traditional online universe, and then we realized that we weren't that great at it. And so we wanted to figure out a way to help our students. So we partnered with Acadeum. At the beginning, it was called College Consortium and it was not developed by CIC necessarily, but endorsed by the CIC. And it is a relatively a newish company. Uh, and what we do with them is , um, we became , um, what they call a home institution originally. So our , the idea was that we would join their platform and allow our students to take courses from other institutions that are like us within the CIC. So the Council of Independent Colleges offers this through Acadeum and the agreement is that we will only allow our students to take courses within CIC membership . So , while that's a pretty large membership, it still limits it so that we can understand where our students are taking the courses. They're not taking courses at institutions that were maybe not comfortable with. And then specifically , in many of our students, for instance, we'll take courses that are part of our , um, athletic conference, just because they're familiar with the schools and they're close by. Um, so that was our initial thought was, Hey, this is a great way to fill the gap in the summertime for our students. And what it turned into though, was a way for us to help students who are struggling. Um, so , uh, what, what it turned into was a way for us to allow athletes, for instance, to take some courses over the summer, through the consortium , uh, where they could increase their GPA and their credit count. Maybe students who were athletes and non athletes who were facing a suspension or probation that gave them the summer time, the ability to , um, to make up what they had lost. Um, and it worked really well that first summer for us. Uh, and then we started offering it to all of our students and said, Hey, this is a great way to progress. And you, you can get ahead in your degree and all of these really cool things. And it became part of our summer offering , um, and our students know about it, and we market it as, you know, alongside all of our offerings. Um, and then it just, of course, as the pandemic hit that following summer , it became essential for us because now we had students who were literally retaking courses that they had failed in the spring because we had to flip to an online format or, or some other type of format. Uh, so it really turned into something much bigger for us. And now so much so that we work directly with Acadeum, with a consultant , and we're always constantly identifying additional strategies to use the , the core sharing platform. So , um, all technology, all digital, no paper , um, no transcripts back and forth , all within one portal, easy to use for students and for us. So we're, we're super excited. And it's been a really great addition to our portfolio .

Speaker 1:

Bryan, how do you decide which courses can be a part of the sharing platform?

Speaker 2:

Sure. So similar to, you know, so if I put on my registrar hat for a minute, so similar to the role that I would have in , in looking at any other transfer course into our institution from another institution, you know, I'm looking at the syllabus, I'm looking at the course description, and I'm making sure that it matches what we expect out of the curriculum for the equivalency on our end. Um, the interesting part about this particular , um, core sharing consortium is that we have access to a lot more information than we would ever have to a regular transfer course. And what I mean by that is we have access to the up-to-date syllabus. We have access to, in some cases to the online platform that that particular school is using. And in almost every case, we have, we have access to the credentials of the faculty teaching the course. So , um, at that point that I'm able to go through and kind of decide, okay, these are the courses that we would allow. These are the courses that we wouldn't , um, it's relatively easy to get started because we're working with schools in the CIC. So these are a lot of schools that we've seen transfer credit come from before. And so as an institution, we've built a transfer policy that encompasses all of these different courses that we've taken in the past. And we started there and that's what we approved. And then we just kind of expanded as we went out. Um, the great thing about it being a digital platform is that once we approve the course, as long as it's continued to be offered from that host institution, it will automatically approve itself for every semester they offer it. So I don't have to continually approve the same courses over and over again. Um, so as we got further into it, it became a lot easier for me to manage.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I would, I would imagine that they wouldn't be extremely tedious every semester to have to go back and look at the same courses. Yes . So are you looking at core credits or are included all of it ? So we've taken a little

Speaker 2:

More of a liberal approach here at the university. Um, now there are some things that we just, we can't, so we have, we have a , kind of a unique core , uh , or general education that it has some pieces toward the junior senior year level that are, that we call explorations. Um, and they're very specific courses to the type of Mount Union education. Um, and they, they tie in with our capstone. So clearly those aren't courses that we really want students taking at other institutions, but our foundation courses, as long as they match the spirit in which our foundation courses are offered , um, major courses , uh , and minor courses. Um, and then of course electives, because everybody's got to have some electives, but , um, you know, we have a few restrictions because these are still considered at their heart transient courses, not, not union courses. Right? So , when we think about that, we think about the ways in which he's coming in. So we do limit the number of that. A student can take, let's say towards their minor. So minor is typically 16 to 20 credit hours. Um, we require as an institution that at least eight of those credit hours are taken at Mount Union and native Mount Union courses. So if they exceed that number through the online course sharing, they'll still have to retake one of those courses here at Mount Union.

Speaker 1:

Okay . So how do you handle tuition?

Speaker 2:

Interesting question, actually so we , um, we are a block pricing school, meaning that everything from 12 to 20 credit hours is exactly the same price. So what we've decided to do as an institution is over the summer, any course that has taken through the online course sharing consortium is charged at our summer rate, which is , which has reduced. Um, it's about , uh , I think 30 or 40% of our actually tuition rate for , uh , fall and spring. Um, that's attractive to students because it makes, that makes our courses. It makes the core sharing is the same price as our courses here at home. So it makes it competitive with our , um, our counterparts at the state level to , um, during the school year, we have a little bit different model . So during the fall and spring semesters, we require before a student is eligible to take a course through the course sharing consortium. They have to have at least 12 credit hours of native non-Union courses, so they have to be full-time at Mount Union. Because we consider this to be , you know, it's kind of a privilege to be able to take these courses, right? Like you, you shouldn't just be able to take them to fill your schedule. So , uh, once a student hits that point, they are allowed to take , um, as many Acadeum courses as they would like , with a couple exceptions. They can't exceed 20 credit hours in the semester because that's considered an overload for us. And the reason we do that is because we don't want them to get overwhelmed with too many classes. Um, the second is that we do charge an additional fee for Acadeum courses or course sharing courses, but we charge at summer rate. So it's just a summer rate on top of the regular tuition that they're paying now. Um, the really great thing about that is they can use financial aid to finance the additional costs as well. So students who are using financial aid scholarships, or any other source of , um, uh, tuition funding, they can apply that to it as well.

Speaker 1:

So are there a lot of classes that you just don't offer in Mount Union that become available to them?

Speaker 2:

No , not really. One of the things that we've, we've strategized with Acadeum is this idea that, you know , more and more students are looking at finishing degrees in a three-year timeframe versus four years. That's only possible if you can take summer courses and really have full schedules throughout the rest of the semesters. And so rather than looking at it from, you know , the angle that we don't offer these courses, so we're offering them through Acadeum it's that we don't necessarily offer them in the sequence, or we don't offer them in these semesters. So, Hey, the option is to take this through the course sharing, and maybe you can get caught back up and finish in three years. Um, you know, the, the idea behind it was never that we're going to use it to fill areas that we don't offer, because we do offer on a sequence. So students can, can always finish a degree at four you're in four years of Mount Union, if they follow the sequence. So

Speaker 1:

That makes total sense. I did my degree in three years, I can understand the desire to do that, especially if you're looking at graduate programs, right. And you're already considering a long- term academic career. And the pressure is now to save tuition, money, writing to lower how much debt you come out of school with are pretty high. So do you have any early success stories from this model that really come to mind?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So one of the, one of the really cool things about this, and probably the reason that we stumbled across each other , is that we have a really strong partnership with Acadeum. And we, really, like I said, it was quick. So I found out about the Acadeum platform in , um , March of 2018. And we were up and running by may. Uh , yeah, so , um, that first summer was a really good indicator for us. And one of the, a couple of the things that came out of that were , uh, we saved five students from suspension. So at the end of the spring semester, they were deemed that they would be suspended for the fall upcoming fall because of whatever academic performance, but we gave them an option. We said, we will reverse the suspension and put you on probation for the fall. If you do X, Y, and Z through the course sharing consortium and earn these grades. Um, we had about eight students take advantage of that. And five of them were successful in moving onto the fall. So, so in our mind that that helped the student because now the student is not suspended. That's not a Mark on their academic record, but it also helps the institution because that's not a loss of five students of revenue, right? Tuition, revenue. This is a student who's continuing on, helps our retention. We had about a dozen students that we were able to not put on probation in the fall that would have been on probation for the fall. And, we are a D-III school—a Division III school—through NCAA. And so being on probation makes you ineligible to participate in athletic conferences, scope. This isn't really helpful, right? So we had a lot of athletes who really stepped up and said, okay, I'm going to use this. I'm going to figure out a way to make this work. Um, and we also had lots of students who, who use the platform for, for other reasons, Hey, I just want to get ahead, or this is really cool and I'm bored in the summer and I want to take some classes. And , um, so the really great thing was to , at the end of the summer, we helped a little bit lower the amount of students taking courses elsewhere. Right. So we brought those students kind of into our consortium group , um, and we made some money. So , um, you know, it was an unexpected revenue stream for us, but it was a six-figure record revenue stream. Believe it or not in the know , in the small number of students that we had. We carried over into the fall and the spring a little bit, but, but we really focused on the summer. Um, and , uh, the summer of the pandemic as I'm calling us our second summer, I using Acadeum. We doubled those numbers. Um, we didn't have any probation, suspension students because we, we suspended all , um, you know, academic probation, suspension levels because of the pandemic. Um, but students still took advantage of it to increase their GPA, increased their progression. Um, and then we also took , um, uh, advantage of , uh , the course sharing during the winter term, because we ended our term early in the fall , um, to help, to help stop the spread. And students took advantage of those additional six weeks available to them and took some courses through the course sharing. So , um, it , I can't think of anything that hasn't been a success for Mount Union. Um, because at the end of the day we , we view it this way. Well , we made some money. Great. Um, you know, we've, we've expanded our footprint a bit and that's awesome too, but at the end of the day, all of this helped us , the student, or in this case, several students , um, you know, continuing their education get ahead. Um, and it's just a great option for students. And I think our students really appreciate the fact that they have this additional option available to them.

Speaker 1:

Well, I'm sure it also helps modernize and future-proof the institution as well. Right. It has an immediate impact , but I think it will also have long- term impacts is that the landscape of education continues to evolve.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I mean, we're, we're already having conversations with some of our counterpart parts about using the platform to do closed consortium sharing. So, Hey, we've got some, some more languages, a German class that maybe this institution doesn't offer, but they want to incorporate it in their curriculum. And so we'll offer it to them if they offer this to us. Um, it's a great way to, for institutions to think about , um , unfortunately , um, when you get rid of programs or do you need to teach out a program it's tough to continue to staff those types of classes that you're teaching out of program. So you maybe could reach out to an institution who is continuing that program and maybe you can use their courses. Um, so, you know, again, consortium , uh, ideas have been around for a really long time. And , um, you know, we used to have to get the car and drive there and take the class, right. But now we don't have to. And , um, I , I truly believe that the institutions that don't in some way take advantage of an online course sharing , uh , platform , uh , are going to be a little left behind , um, this is it's rapidly progressing and we are super excited that we're on the forefront of it.

Speaker 1:

We've talked about all of the positives of which there are quite a few , but have there been any surprises or downsides?

Speaker 2:

No, I wouldn't say surprises or downsides other than , um, as we begin as it becomes more popular, more students. And , um, we've also now , um, we're dipping our toe in this summer as a teaching institution. So we are actually offering some of our courses onto the platform to other schools now. Um, you know, it, it's becoming a little bit larger than, than I can manage by myself. So the great news is a registrar at a small school can usually manage the, the Acadeum piece pretty well. Like I said, the platform is very user-friendly, but, you know, as that starts to grow, you have to start to build a team around it. And so we are fortunate here at the institution to have , um, uh, an instructional designer on staff. So he is really managing the teaching institution side for me while I continued to manage the home institution. Um, and then we've also designated someone , um, in our academic affairs and slash student affairs , uh, that will, that will act as kind of the support person for students taking Acadeum courses, not, not only from us, but our , our students taking them at other places. So , um, I would say the growing pain , uh, is, is probably the downside there, especially when students start to understand, Hey, this is a pretty cool option and it's , it's great. And I can do this. Um, so , um, you know, the, the other, I guess, downside that, that we didn't really experience a lot of , uh, but I think some schools could , um, is buy-in. Um, so, you know, everyone thinks that their curriculum is the best, right. Um, I personally think that not Union does a fantastic job with curriculum, but we also know that so do other schools. And so , um, you know, getting other schools to understand why the consortium is important and what it means for the institution is a little tough, especially on the faculty side. But one of the great things about a company like Acadeum in that course sharing is that we know because we're , uh , we're now a teaching institution, the amount of rigor that goes into a course, just being able to be posted on that site. Um, you know, many of your listeners probably know about quality matters, which is kind of the gold standard of online courses, QM rubric. Um, so, you know, most of those core sharing courses have to follow a QM rubric. Um, they have to follow certain standards , um , that are expected at the highest level of online courses. Uh , and so that takes time because you have to have, again, an instructional designer in the background, who's willing to help that faculty member build that course out. Um, so that it's not only, you know, usable to the student , um, impactful, but also accessible. And so , um, that can be a little bit of a challenge for schools. Um, and so , um, but we were lucky. And so it wasn't a downside for us.

Speaker 1:

What do you think the future might look like for core sharing among the consortium?

Speaker 2:

Uh, I think the future , um, looks pretty bright. Um, I could see the possibility of institutions , uh , collaborating in such a partnership that says, Hey, I really want to offer this particular major or program. And so does this other school, but neither of us individually have the resources to do this or the faculty, but we can put it in half. You can put it in half and maybe we offer a dual, you know , kind of degreed program to a student, and that can all happen through something like a core sharing consortium, because, you know, students are in between two schools that are completely, you know, 3000 miles apart even. And so I think that it opens up, you know, we talk about, you know, 70, 80 years ago, you know, the US globalized and things became all cool. I think it's time that, that higher ed globalized a little bit, we, we start , um, you know, matching up with folks across , um, uh, the country and schools across country and see what we can offer to our students.

Speaker 1:

I agree with you. I think that as we continue to go into this online age and expectations are that everything becomes like an Amazon shopping experience, Bryan, Right? You want things available to you immediately. I think younger generations especially expect no really high levels of service in why can't things just be delivered online and through kind of a sharing platform. And it really does make you think like, wow, what could the future really bring mean ? Could to your point, you know, this idea of, of two institutions, 3000 miles apart, being able to have a shared curriculum and as your degree program is, is really wonderful to consider. It could really change the landscape higher ed.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, and change it in such a way that it doesn't change the core of who you are. So, you know, we always tell folks that we are still, you know, a four year liberal arts institution. That's a residential focus. Um, you know, we, we enjoy having students on campus in person living here as a community, but this is , uh , uh, you know, an additional option for our students. And, and , um, I think we can still, you know, barrel through that way, but just add all these other cool pieces to it and these partnerships, for sure.

Speaker 1:

Thanks so much for your time today, Bryan, I've learned a lot about course sharing and the wonderful benefits that you've had at the University of Mount Union. Thank you. You are very well. That's the end of our podcast today. Check back next month for another great guest and topic. And in the meantime, you can check out our free resources at thetambellinigroup.com. Thanks so much.