To Scale Online and Save Small Schools, Higher Ed Takes a Page From K-12

column | Higher Education

To Scale Online and Save Small Schools, Higher Ed Takes a Page From K-12

By Michael B. Horn (Columnist) and Scott Lomas     May 7, 2019

To Scale Online and Save Small Schools, Higher Ed Takes a Page From K-12

As online learning has grown in both higher education and K-12 schools, it has traditionally taken different pathways. But hundreds of small colleges and one company have an incentive to try and change that.

Thanks to a new and growing effort by the College Consortium, a company that supports online course sharing between institutions, higher education is taking a page from K-12 education to help schools expand their course options for students. The company is allowing colleges to control already-shaky budgets in two ways: by holding the line on costs as participating schools can rely on faculty from other colleges and don’t have to hire additional ones, and by supporting the top line through revenue sharing among schools.

In K-12 education, despite the presence of fully virtual schools, most students experience online learning as a component of their brick-and-mortar schooling. For years, high schools have used online learning, for example, to plug holes in their course offerings where they didn’t have a subject-matter teacher to offer a class.

Today, many schools participate in consortia where they share access to content and teachers at other schools—and in turn benefit from the courses other schools offer. The Virtual High School currently works with over 650 middle and high schools to offer a catalog of over 200 online courses, serving nearly 12,000 students each year. The Global Online Academy works today with over 75 of the more elite independent schools worldwide.

These groups offer schools a way to expand their catalogs without incurring the full cost of a class for which there may be limited demand. That in turn has helped many schools offer the full suite of classes that students might desire, in spite of budgetary pressures. It’s been a valuable way for many institutions to expand their course catalogs and dip their toes into online learning.

In higher education, although many colleges offer their students the ability to take online courses as part of their education—witness the flexibility that the University of Central Florida offers, for instance—the story has more often been about the rise of fully-online colleges. More recently, schools like Southern New Hampshire University, Western Governors University, and Liberty University have attracted notice as the new “mega” universities powered by online learning.

But colleges can share classes online, too. They have long banded together in consortia to allow students the ability to take traditional courses at nearby campuses. And consortia like UMassOnline have existed for nearly two decades to create flexibility within state systems online.

A new effort powered by College Consortium is seeking to turbo charge that effort in campuses across the nation by allowing member schools to share online classes and tuition revenue. The company helped launch the CIC Online Course Sharing Consortium this past fall, an effort to facilitate online course sharing among the Council of Independent College’s member schools, which include 680 independent colleges and universities.

Through revenue-sharing arrangements, the model allows colleges to sustain traditionally underfunded programs and courses, and encourage specialization in others, while also adding additional revenue. Even colleges that are sending students to other institutions’ courses are realizing revenue growth, while also allowing students to fill in academic gaps to mend their GPA and graduate faster.

Over the last two years, 116 members of the CIC have worked with College Consortium to serve 3,210 enrollments.

Eureka College, for example, has leveraged the consortium to allow 47 of its students to enroll in 112 online courses from other institutions. Allowing these students to take these online courses helped the school boost retention by 3 percent and retain 43 of the 44 students—including 17 of 18 of those deemed most at risk of dropping out.

The plan also helped Eureka by bringing in additional revenue—to the tune of roughly $270,000.

For small schools, the upside in the long run is the ability to offer more courses—while also potentially generating more revenue. In this way, the consortium echoes the moves that Dominican University of California made to partner with Make School, a coding bootcamp, to allow the university to offer a minor in computer science without having to build up the department required for such an offering, and the pilot effort of Davidson College with Adjacent, a startup incubated by the Entangled Group, to offer a summer coding program in the Bay Area for students at several colleges.

As in K-12 schools, we predict that it’s unlikely the majority of students in higher education taking online classes will do so through consortia. But this will be a valuable option for many schools.

Given the perils facing many small colleges, standing pat and hoping for the best isn’t an option. Innovating with entities like an online course consortia is worth exploring.

 

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