When it comes to on-time completion, the latest national survey reveals some good news: college completion rates across all types of institutions went up in 2021. Six-year completion rates rose by 1.2 percent and community college completion increased by 1.5 percent. Coming in the midst of the pandemic, this improvement demonstrates extraordinary dedication on the part of both institutions and students.
But — and you might have guessed a but was coming — these increases still leave nearly 40 percent of students struggling to complete a 4-year degree within six years. And only one out of every three financially independent students completes a degree at all.
Leaders at colleges and universities are deeply committed to breaking down the barriers that block success for their students. To support them in this effort, a recent survey asked more than 2,000 current college students and recent college graduates to identify the biggest roadblocks they face on their way to earning a degree.
The results of this survey reflect a number of challenges for leaders in higher ed. However, the results also point to solutions that can effectively address the roadblocks.
Why Aren’t College Students Graduating on Time?
A recent survey found that college students confront three roadblocks to on-time graduation: course availability, transfer, and degree pathway.
On the course availability front, many students indicated that they are waitlisted for the courses they need for on-time completion:
- 57% of current students were waitlisted and unable to take at least one class they needed to graduate on time
- 41% of current students were forced to find classes at another institution
- 22% of recent graduates said they had changed their major or minor because the courses they needed to graduate were not available
The second major roadblock emerges in the transfer process. Many students lose course credits when they transfer between institutions, which ends up affecting their ability to graduate on time:
- 55%+ students found the transfer process was moderately to extremely complicated
- 33% of current students lost at least half their credits during the transfer process
Finally, students are stumbling on their path to completion from a lack of degree planning. Too often, they don’t finalize their degree plans until late in their college career, which can impact their ability to resolve course and transfer problems in a timely fashion:
- 26% of recent graduates admitted they hadn’t mapped out their degree plan by the beginning of their fourth year
One Solution: Course and Program Sharing
As consulting firm EY-Parthenon recently noted in its article, “Why Collaboration is Key to the Future of Higher Education,” higher education institutions need to partner with others to improve their finances and their value proposition. To activate this type of collaboration, higher education systems, consortia, and institutions are increasingly turning to course and program sharing platforms to create new pathways to student success, solve transfer challenges, grow enrollment, and eliminate manual processes.
Course and program sharing is a strategy where two or more institutions collaborate to make their courses available to each other’s students to count for credit at their home institution. Course sharing can occur among public systems, consortia, and even individual institutions that opt in to a network of shared courses. A growing number of systems, including the California Virtual Campus, Montana University System, and Idaho State Board of Education, have successfully implemented the technology to resolve issues that were impacting their student experience.
Optimizing The Power of Course and Program Sharing
With course and program sharing gaining traction, consistent best practices have emerged for how to properly bring course and program sharing to institutions. Underlying these strategies, however, is one fundamental principle: all initiatives have to center on maximizing student success. Any actions taken should be chosen to benefit students. Only then can colleges and universities expect to see institutional success.
Here are four important steps to consider when implementing course and program sharing to overcome roadblocks to on-time completion:
- Create a framework. Identify the institutional objectives that course and program sharing could support, including increased enrollment and retention, improved graduation and completion rates, and enhanced revenues and efficiencies. Then bring the right people to the table to chart your way forward. This should include representatives from academic affairs; the registrar or enrollment management; counseling and advising; the transfer office; financial aid, and the office of student success.
- Clarify how you will manage processes for both students and the institution. You can start by considering tuition and financial aid.How will students pay for shared courses and how will you process financial aid within regulations for your students? Also determine how you will comply with state mandates and laws while sharing courses and programs. Have you considered NC-SARA if you plan on doing course and program sharing across state lines? You may also want to examine whether you could begin course sharing by building upon existing transfer equivalencies or articulation agreements.
- Set your goals for improving the student experience and identify the metrics you will use to measure success. Goals could include: improving equity and access to courses for students; reaching underserved populations; providing better pathways to on-time completion, and increasing availability and diversity in course offerings. The metrics you use to measure your progress can include: increased rates of progression and on-time completion; increasing the number of courses offered; expanding enrollment and retention; consolidating sections to optimize instructional resources and fill seats, and increasing performance-based funding.
- Look to the future. Prepare to track, analyze, and share your results. You may also want to develop guides and templates that will make it easy to implement course and program sharing with additional institutions. Finally, consider forming your own consortia or partnerships to respond to unique opportunities and challenges.
Course and program sharing is a powerful solution to address the challenges students face with on-time graduation, including course availability, transfer, and degree pathway. With the right team, the right technology, and the right partner to help navigate potential pitfalls, institutions can drive innovation, boost student success, and improve the overall student experience.
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