Seven colleges and universities with predominantly black students are betting that “course sharing” will help more students graduate on time.

Under a new arrangement, students at either institution can take online courses offered by other institutions.

The hope is that offering students more courses will simplify their path to graduation. If your major requires an accounting course that has no seats available until next semester, or conflicts with your work schedule, don’t worry – there may be a course sharing that can meet the requirements.

“It’s all about retention, persistence, getting students across the finish line to get their studies done,” said Jamila S. Lyn, director of professional programming at Benedict College in South Carolina. “We thought that might help parents. We thought it might Helping working students. We think this can help students who are unable to come to campus due to health conditions and who are approved for virtual classes.”

Many historically black colleges have low graduation rates, which higher education experts attribute to their lack of resources and a tendency to serve low-income first-generation students without an economic safety net. Students may have to work part-time to pay tuition, or if they can’t afford admission, they may have to drop out for a semester or two, making it harder to graduate in four to six years.

Campus officials say course sharing could give these students more options to keep them on track academically — and even help some students graduate faster and save them money.

Roslyn Clark Artis, president of Benedict, came up with the idea for course sharing and presented it to the Southern District Board of Education, a nonprofit that grew out of the Interstate Compact for Higher Education and is now working to diversify professors and more. Since Since January 2020, Benedict has been participating in course sharing with non-HBCUs through an online platform called Acadeum.

Lynn says Benedict students are doing well: Despite the pandemic and the fact that minority students are less likely to do well with online learning, 82 percent passed their class-sharing classes .

Universities participating in new course sharing programs do need to consider specific support for students, Lyn said: “You do have another community now that we have to think about in terms of academic outreach, attendance monitoring, etc.” At Benedict, students Sign up for course sharing sessions through their advisor.

In late 2021, Benedict entered into a course-sharing agreement with Dillard University of Louisiana, viewing it as an opportunity to send students to courses offered by like-minded institutions.

Lynn said Benedict’s 15 seniors will need to complete so many credits in the spring 2022 semester to graduate on time that it seems unlikely they’ll be juggling it all. It would be ideal if they could complete some credits during the winter semester. Benedict did not provide it, but Dillard did. About 90 percent of students enrolled in the course-sharing program are back on track for graduation.

Stevie L. Lawrence II, vice president for higher education at the Southern Regional Board of Education, hopes that students and institutions will also use the course sharing system more creatively. Maybe they will create new minors, or special emphasis in their majors that are not available in their home institution. The board, known as SREB, is coordinating the course-sharing program and paying member institutions to use the Academy.

Benedict uses course sharing to add an MBA program and two majors, and teach students in academic programs that are being phased out.

In addition to Benedict, members of the inaugural class sharing are Albany State University, Clinton College, Fort Valley State University, Langston University, Southeast Arkansas College and Texas Southern University. SREB is negotiating accession with other agencies. The initiative is open to HBCUs and other minority-serving agencies in the board’s 16 state territories.

Tuition for the course will go to the institution that created and taught each course, not the institution where the student resides. Lawrence said leaders at those institutions are still working out how to ensure students don’t pay more than they would pay to take classes at their home institution.