Increasing Efficiency and Reducing Inter-Institutional SilosMargaret O'Hara | Director of E-Learning, University of North Carolina System
As resources for higher education continue to dwindle, more and more programs are being subjected to productivity reviews, which often result in programs being discontinued. Two areas of study often hard hit by these circumstances are world language and classics programs. Such programs require considerable investment in faculty and other resources (language labs, etc.), but often attract few students interested in language as a major field of study. At the same time, we need an increasingly high level of proficiency in languages other than English. How can higher education claim to be preparing its graduates to succeed in a global society when it so easily eliminates the foundation for communicating in that society? From where will the next generation of multilingual diplomats, leaders and experts emerge?
Another issue that has arisen in the last few years due to budget constraints is that classes on some campuses fill up very quickly and students sometimes wait semester after semester to take a course, thereby increasing their time to degree. Making courses available across campuses within a state system has become more popular, especially given the budget constraints under which most higher education institutions operate. Concerns for efficiencies and duplication avoidance are also drivers of this course-sharing initiative. In a perfect world, students interested in studying a less popular language would be able to find a suitable course online, register for it, pay tuition and begin learning the language. In the real world, the process is much more complicated.
One cause for the complexity is credit transfer. A student wanting to take Spanish III online from another campus must first ensure the course will transfer as Spanish III and not just as elective credit. For the most part, detailed lists of equivalencies across institutions do not exist, so the student needs to obtain a syllabus for the intended course and have it approved by the appropriate person on the home campus. Another stumbling block for many students is they must apply for admission to the institution offering the course, pay the admission fee and then pay the tuition for the credits being taken. For full-time students attempting to register for a course within the same state, the additional tuition can be a huge deterrent.
The University of North Carolina system (UNC) and the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) are working to ease the burdens in this process in two ways. UNC students who want to take a course offered online by a community college can easily determine which courses will transfer because a comprehensive articulation agreement between UNC and the NCCCS exists. While the registration process is still manual and extra tuition is incurred, students do not need to get transfer approval prior to registering, thereby eliminating one step in the process.
Additionally, UNC is implementing a robust inter-institutional registration system that will allow students enrolled at one UNC campus to register for an online world language course at any other UNC campus. The registration system will evolve along with UNC; while students will still need to ensure the course will transfer for credit but, once approved, the system will note that approval for future students, and over time build a listing of course equivalencies.
The program, called UNC Exchange, offers 46 courses across 13 languages as of Fall 2013. Each of the system’s 16 campuses is participating. Nine campuses — mostly the larger schools — are offering world language courses this semester, and students from every campus are enrolled in them. Participation in Spring 2014 is expected to increase as we publicize The Exchange within the state. While the pilot is currently limited to world languages, other disciplines (notably in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) areas) have expressed interest in creating similar exchanges to supplement course offerings, especially on the smaller campuses. Going forward, The Exchange will give North Carolina residents increased access to a quality education.
Ultimately, this robust registration system and overall approach to inter-institutional collaboration will allow our institutions to reduce their costs, lower prices for students, increase offerings and operate with far greater efficiency. Ultimately, it will help minimize the silos that separate the various institutions within the system and will hopefully translate to an increase in the completion rates of our students.
Author Perspective: Administrator