Magazine article University Business

Better Together: How Formal Alliances between Groups of Institutions Are Providing New Learning and Research Opportunities-Plus Expanding Project Funding Options

Magazine article University Business

Better Together: How Formal Alliances between Groups of Institutions Are Providing New Learning and Research Opportunities-Plus Expanding Project Funding Options

Article excerpt

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At Juniata College in Pennsylvania, students took Arabic for the first time last fall by enrolling in a course at Gettysburg College via video conference. Amherst College students, meanwhile, can major in architectural studies by taking classes at four neighboring colleges. And at Cabrini College near Philadelphia, students from five institutions researched viruses last summer in a new undergraduate science program.

Colleges and universities across the country are creating shared courses, new academic majors and innovative research programs through consortia that combine the resources of multiple campuses. The growing number of these groups, now estimated at 60 nationwide, has also provided new opportunities for faculty to collaborate on research and teaching strategies.

While many institutions initially teamed up to share functions such as library services, the power of numbers has allowed groups of small colleges to expand course offerings and save money by sharing faculty. "One of the things we are all concluding is we can't all do everything on our own campuses," says Janet Morgan Riggs, president of Gettysburg, part of the two-year-old Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts.

Joining a consortium lets small colleges such as Gettysburg provide more of the academic opportunities students may have access to at a large university. And larger schools have found that collaboration can increase the range of classes and majors offered. "Even at a big research university, students want to take courses on other campuses," says Neal Abraham, a physics professor and executive director of the Five Colleges, Incorporated in Massachusetts.

UMass Amherst, for example, offers 4,185 courses. Because of the university's association with Five Colleges, last year its students took an additional 466 courses at the four other schools in the consortium.

Here's a closer look at how consortia offer students and faculty new learning and research opportunities, as well as how these projects are funded.

New student opportunities

Improvements in video-conferencing technology have paved the way for colleges in consortia to share courses on campuses hundreds of miles from one another. One focus has been offering language courses that typically attract low enrollment.

Gettysburg College, for example, used a video-conferencing platform called Lifesize last fall to beam in a course on Arabic to four students at Juniata College, two hours away. At the same time, Juniata video-conferenced a Chinese class to three students who were three hours away at Washington & Jefferson College.

Five Colleges, one of the largest consortia in the country, created the Center for the Study of World Languages, which offers instruction in 40 less commonly taught languages, such as Twi from Ghana and Yoruba from West Africa, Tagalog from the Philippines and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian. While the colleges are no more than 30 minutes apart, a growing number of students find that videoconference classes fit more conveniently into their schedule.

And, last year, the consortium began assigning teaching assistants to work with students taking Hebrew and Arabic remotely.

Accessing the learning management system across the Five Colleges consortium while teaching these shared classes has not presented an obstacle because all of the schools use Moodle, Abraham says.

Other partnerships are creating new initiatives in STEM fields. Two years ago, the Philadelphia-area Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education developed a 10-week undergraduate summer research program that allows students to sequence and annotate the genetic properties of a bacteriophage.

While the program was previously offered during the academic year, administrators say it was more successful during the summer because the students had more time to devote to the course, which met for four hours, four days a week at Cabrini College. …

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