Recently, the organization that I lead, the Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas (DigiTex), was honored to receive a grant from Greater Texas Foundation to support a two-year project, Harnessing Course Sharing to Support Texas Pathways at Scale. The funding, in the amount of $645,405, will support a collaboration between us and the company Acadeum to assist colleges across Texas in solving the problems of persistence, on-time completion, and access to courses to assist in fulfilling guided pathways, through inter-institutional course sharing.

greater texas foundation

Greater Texas Foundation supports initiatives that increase rates of postsecondary enrollment and completion for all Texas students, with a particular focus on students who may encounter barriers to postsecondary success. For example, on-time credential completion rates continue to be a significant problem for community colleges. In fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics in 2020 show that only 13 percent of community college students graduate in two years. In Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported in 2020 that the average time to complete an associate degree was 3.9 years. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and we offer one solution–course sharing.

One Solution

Guided pathways have proven to be one effective solution to this problem and research shows that the practices used in guided pathways programs can lead to better outcomes for students. However, many colleges, particularly small and/or rural institutions, lack access to courses needed to create and consistently fulfill in-demand pathways and support on-time completion.

This project aims to address this challenge through two primary strategies:

  • increase the number of high-quality, online STEM, and in-demand shorter-term courses that are a part of the existing course sharing initiative; and,
  • assist participating colleges in implementing course sharing strategies to ensure learners can access and complete guided pathways.

In the initial press release on the grant, Dr. Richard Rhodes, Chancellor of Austin Community College District, a project participant and DIgiTex’s home base, described the benefits of course sharing: “Community colleges hold an enormous amount of potential to be economic growth engines within their communities. We are proud to deploy course sharing to ensure that in-demand certificate and degree completion pathways can reach students in every geographic region to deliver on that growth opportunity promise.”

Course sharing can benefit any institution and student, and deserves the utmost attention.

"life is sharing" written on a wall
Life is Sharing” by cogdogblog is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Three colleges have joined the project as Teaching Institutions (TIs) offering courses: Austin Community College District, Houston Community College System, and Western Texas College. Another nine institutions so far will be serving as Home Institutions (HIs), and their students will benefit from courses at the TIs: Angelina College, Cisco College, Frank Phillips College, Howard College, Paris Junior College, Ranger College, South Plains College, Vernon College, and Weatherford College. Through a series of meetings with these project participants as well as data from a survey on high-need, in-demand courses, we’ve determined the initial offerings for the Summer and Fall terms. They will include courses in Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, and Spanish.

Project Logistics

Additionally, we proposed the following success metrics for the project:

  • at least thirty unique courses in STEM and other in-demand disciplines will be offered through course sharing;
  • at least 3,600 unique students will gain access to courses needed to progress toward (and/or complete) credentials through guided pathways (we also will be tracking various student demographic metrics); and,
  • the average percentage of earned credits (typically 30) in one year for students at participating Home Institutions will increase three percent from the period two years prior, compared to a historical average of one percent over two years.

We also plan to share stories of the impact of course sharing on individual students’ ability to progress to credential and/or on time completion. We anticipate stories similar to a hypothetical scenario that I submitted with our proposal to highlight the potential impact of course sharing on student success.

A Student Named Jorge

Take, for example, a hypothetical first-generation student, Jorge Rivera, attending Frank Phillips College in the small town of Borger in the Panhandle of Texas. Jorge aspires to obtain an Associate’s of Science Degree and transfer to West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree with the dream of one day going to medical school and becoming a doctor, and returning to Borger to serve his community. He and his family have saved two years of expenses needed beyond the Pell grants for which he is eligible, making completion of the credential in that time period crucial to his success. The guided pathway he is on has kept him right on track.

However, the semester before his final spring term, Jorge discovers that the physics course he needs will not be offered that term. He can’t wait until the course is offered again in the fall due to lack of funds. Jorge would have to drop out to work full time until he can save additional money for college, risking becoming discouraged and/or having life events intervene and potentially never returning. Thanks to course sharing, though, Jorge and his advisor discover that a participating Teaching Institutions offers the physics course just when he needs it. Jorge quickly enrolls in the course, completes it, and earns his associate degree (the first in his family to do so) on time, transfers to WTAMU to pursue a baccalaureate degree on a full scholarship, and continues his journey to becoming a doctor! 

I will follow up here in two years with a report on the impact of the project. Hopefully, through the project, we will have realized the dreams of students like “Jorge.” As we progress with the project, we are hopeful to provide more positive stories of student success.

Now your turn. Have you (or your institution) endeavored on a large-scape course sharing initiative? If so, what have you learned or what advice would you give?

digitex logo

DigiTex has a long history of facilitating inter-institutional course sharing, founded in 1998 as the Virtual College of Texas for just that purpose and serving all fifty Texas public community college districts and over 50,000 students. Although we have expanded our initiatives to include leading the Texas Quality Matters Consortium; supporting Open Education policy, practice, and advocacy; and other activities, facilitating course sharing – now with our partner Acadeum – continues to be a mandate. Grant funding like this from Greater Texas Foundation – our first grant in our 24-year history! – will aid us in strategic expansion of course sharing to support student success.

Judith Sebesta

Executive Director, Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas

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