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Could ‘Course Sharing’ Help HBCUs and Other Minority-Serving Colleges Graduate More Students?

Seven colleges and universities with predominantly Black enrollments are betting that “course sharing” will help more of their students graduate on time.

Under a new arrangement, students at any one of the institutions will be able to take online classes offered by the others.

The hope is that making more courses available to students will ease their path to graduation. No worries if the accounting course you need for your major has run out of seats, isn’t offered until the following semester, or conflicts with your work schedule — maybe there’s a course-share that fulfills the requirement.

“It was all about retention, persistence, getting students over the finish line for completion,” said Jamila S. Lyn, director of specialized programming at Benedict College, in South Carolina. “We see this potentially helping student-parents. We see this potentially helping working students. We see this as helping students who can’t come to campus because of a health condition, who have approval for virtual courses.”

Many historically Black colleges have low graduation rates, which higher-ed experts attribute to the fact that they are underresourced and tend to serve low-income, first-generation students without financial safety nets. Students might have to work part time to pay tuition, or they might have to drop out for a semester or two if they can’t afford to enroll, making it more difficult to graduate in four to six years.

Course-sharing, campus officials said, can offer those students more options to stay on track academically — and could even help some students graduate more quickly, saving them money.

Roslyn Clark Artis, president of Benedict, came up with the course-share idea and brought it to the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit that grew out of an interstate higher-ed compact and now leads efforts to diversify the professoriate, among other things . Since January 2020, Benedict had been participating in course-shares with non-HBCUs through an online platform called Acadeum.

Students at Benedict did well, Lyn said: 82 percent of them passed their course-share classes, despite the pandemic and even though underrepresented-minority students are less likely to do well with online learning.

Participating colleges in the new course-share project do need to think about specific supports for their students, Lyn said: “You really do have this other community now that we will have to consider as we think about academic outreach, attendance monitoring, et cetera .” At Benedict, students enroll in the course-share classes through their advisers.

In late 2021, Benedict formed a course-share agreement with Dillard University, in Louisiana, seeing it as an opportunity to send their students to classes run by a like-minded institution.

Fifteen seniors at Benedict needed to complete so many credit hours in the spring-2022 semester in order to graduate on time that it seemed unlikely they could juggle it all, Lyn said. It would have been ideal if they could do a few credits over the winter term. Benedict doesn’t offer one, but Dillard does. About 90 percent of students who participated in the course-share program got back on track to graduation.

Stevie L. Lawrence II, vice president for postsecondary education at the Southern Regional Education Board, hopes students and institutions will use the course-share system more creatively, too. Perhaps they’ll create new minors, or special focuses in their majors that wouldn’t otherwise be available at their home institutions. The board, known as SREB, is coordinating the course-share project and paying for member institutions to use Acadeum.

Benedict has used course-sharing to add an MBA program and two majors, and to teach-out students in academic programs that are being eliminated.

The inaugural course-share members, in addition to Benedict, are Albany State University, Clinton College, Fort Valley State University, Langston University, Southeast Arkansas College, and Texas Southern University. SREB is in talks with other institutions about joining. The initiative is open to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions in the board’s 16-state region.

Tuition for the courses will go to the institution that created and is teaching each course, not the student’s home institution. Leaders of the institutions, Lawrence said, are still working out how to ensure students won’t have to pay more than they would to take classes at their home institutions.


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