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An HBCU Success Story: How Benedict College Built Course Sharing Into the Student Experience

By Jamila Lyn

Director of Specialized Programming, Benedict College

At Benedict College, a small, private, historically black college in Columbia, South Carolina, the student experience is everything. While it’s reasonable to assume that a year of virtual learning would destabilize our culture of community and coaching, our wrap-around support model has only been affirmed over the past year. To ensure students are supported during this time of disruption, we’ve launched a host of initiatives, including Virtual Summer Orientation for new and returning students, Winter Engagement sessions, Emergency Aid programs, a loaner laptop program, and course sharing.

Course sharing is a way to ensure that students have access to the course options they need to progress in their chosen field, even when the necessary courses aren’t offered on campus in a particular semester. Since we partnered with Acadeum to power course sharing, we’ve adopted innovative approaches to meeting students’ needs while maintaining their expectations of Benedict College. It is an enhancement that has enabled our students to thrive, even during the most challenging of times.

In a recent Hechinger Report op-ed, I wrote about the critical role HBCUs play in helping Black students feel at home in higher education, especially those who have been systematically disadvantaged. The truth of the matter is, Black students come to HBCUs to be part of an extended family in a safe space where they can exist free from external pressures to conform. This culture of care is especially critical in our current social-political climate where black humanity is on trial–literally and figuratively. The need for HBCUs can’t be overstated.

So how do you capture the essence of an HBCU experience through virtual learning and course sharing?

First and foremost, there is a false narrative that Black students don’t do well in the online learning space. At Benedict, we are directly challenging this myth by enrolling our students in virtual learning experiences with high-touch, wraparound support. This student support is critical to our students’ success. Since our first course sharing enrollment in January 2020, Benedict College students have completed almost 128 courses via course sharing with a near 80% pass rate, which is significantly higher than the national online course pass rate.

Acadeum’s strong partnership and early alerts dovetail with our student support and intervention model. When students enroll in courses offered outside of their home institutions, it’s reasonable to expect that they may experience some challenges. That’s why it is important to keep an open line of communication with the student. We start by initiating a conversation via phone, text, or chat to help the student understand the course sharing process. That conversation opens a dialogue that continues from onboarding to weekend and holiday check-ins, through to completion. With this approach, we proactively identify and assist students in overcoming barriers to success. We take the approach that every problem a student faces is a relevant problem.

Our goal is to ensure students know they are seen and supported. For students enrolled in course sharing courses, that means we offer the same care and support that we would offer to a student enrolled in an on-campus course. This is where the early alert system that Acadeum offers makes a big difference. I can, in real-time, intervene and help students resolve whatever difficulty they have. Working with the Acadeum student support team really feels like a partnership and not just a product.

In addition to helping students make progress when course scheduling and sequencing becomes challenging, course sharing plays a much bigger role in helping Benedict College effectively deploy our resources. We’ve used the Acadeum network to scale-up and scale-down programs.

To scale up, we’ve used course sharing to add a new MBA program and two new majors: Cybersecurity and Justice Administration. As students transition into these new programs, course sharing makes it easy to complete necessary prerequisites for these programs with flexible options that work with students’ schedules. Course sharing supplements our existing course offerings so students have a myriad of choices each and every term.

When it comes to scaling-down, we’ve used course sharing to teach out programs and eliminate independent studies that act as schedule fillers and don’t align with desired learning outcomes. This approach allows our students to engage with peers at other institutions in a robust learning environment while still meeting all the requirements for their Benedict degree. With course sharing, we ensure that students in majors we were preparing to teach out are seen and supported, never disenfranchised.

We’re proud of the deans, chairs, faculty, and students who have come together to embrace our partnership with Acadeum and to make this collaboration a success. Like any new initiative, investment is required to build an efficient process that works for students and the institution. But the investment and the cross-institution collaboration have paid off for students, and the institution. Course sharing, coupled with wraparound student support, allows us to help Black students stay on track for success, and that’s why we’re here.

If your institution is struggling with limited resources or looking for ways to support traditionally underserved students, course sharing is an effective way to expand your capacity and prioritize student progression.

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