For years, access was solely about opening doors to those who didn’t know they belonged in our classrooms. This idea led to a holistic student success focus in which students were supported from entrance to completion, but it soon grew to include students’ needs beyond academics. In the pursuit of creating a path for every student, community colleges can find themselves stretched incredibly thin.

Often overlooked, access can also mean providing the right courses for a student at the right time. Options to make this happen abound and include eight-week terms, multiple intakes, multiple modalities, weekend courses, and online sections. But each college has only one course catalog and student demand cannot always be fully met by the course offerings at a single institution. As a result, students’ access is limited to a schedule that is created months in advance and, inevitably, has gaps. 

Access can also mean exposing students to new programming and opportunities. At industry conferences, innovations are shared, and many wish their colleges had the resources to replicate them. They may learn about expanded pathways, corequisite courses that can improve developmental education outcomes, and the newest career tracks in data science and technology. With limited resources for new program development and limited access to faculty, however, many colleges are overstretched and struggle to optimize on behalf of the institution and the student. 

Colleges have historically strived to align their resources with student demand, but because demand is constantly fluctuating, they can end up running  inefficient operations, spending precious resources on underenrolled classes, and struggling with optimal space utilization. Furthermore, not all prospective students fit into the traditional intake timelines. Limited to their own catalog, it is all too often a zero-sum game: either the institution loses, or the student loses. Yet, by working together, community colleges can provide another option. 

Colleges can leverage a network of peer institutions to help guide students to paths that overcome institutional limitations with course sharing. This construct builds on a consortium model that has existed for over 100 years, with many notable achievements. For example, community college-based Maryland Online consortia, formed in the late 1990s, was the birthplace of the Quality Matters standards. Similarly, the distinguished Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas (formerly Virtual Colleges of Texas), launched in 1998, embraces course sharing at scale, affording students and institutions immeasurable benefits. 

Course sharing can enhance the agility of institutions in impactful ways. Earlier this year, for example, AcadeumTM worked with a college whose one Spanish instructor unexpectedly could not return to the classroom. Hiring an adjunct professor with a week’s notice was not an option, so the institution called on another college to share an online course and cross-registered 20 students. Another college offered calculus once a year due to lack of demand, but had three students who needed to take the course in the spring in order to transfer to a four-year university. Connecting to a peer institution to teach these students was the answer. Another institution cancelled eight low-enrolled courses for a fall session, but served the 30 impacted students by leveraging a course sharing consortium. In this example, the provost and scheduling team found an easy way to respond to student needs and avoid the economic burden of teaching under-enrolled courses. Finally, another institution used a course sharing consortium to share the open capacity of their sections. Operational efficiency was improved by expanding access to other colleges so they could increase options for their students. 

Although each institution is already spread thin, they all want to do more. Students’ success and progress toward completion need not be limited by the availability of a course sequence at their institution. A consortium model creates the capacity for colleges to secure each student’s pathway. In our connected world, we have access to an abundance of online courses, and the open capacity in these courses can be unlocked to boost enrollment and student progress. Enhancing institutional efficiency, outcomes, and sustainability through cost-effective strategies that help institutions address course supply and demand issues can enrich pathways and motivate more students to complete their certificates or degrees. By increasing access to each other, we can increase access for students.

Patrick Frasier

Vice President, Academic Partnerships, Acadeum

The League for Innovation has partnered with Acadeum to launch the first national community college online course sharing consortium to expand students’ access to the courses they need. Acadeum powers consortial course sharing networks and creates a place to connect home institutions and teaching institutions. Home institutions can leverage the online courses of teaching institutions to provide additional options for their own students. Acadeum makes it easy to view course inventories and syllabi and to exchange data and money between institutions. For more information about the League for Innovation Online Course Sharing Consortium powered by Acadeum, contact Patrick Frasier.


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