The Impact of Course Sharing on Student Success

Trevor Misina  •  Jun 18, 2024  •  Podcast

What is Course Sharing and how can it expand access to opportunities for students? Dr. Marina Aminy, Executive Director of California Virtual Campus, joins us to share why the California Community College System pursued Course Sharing and why it matters for students.



Matthew Sterenberg (00:20.142)

All right. I’m here with Dr. Marina Amini, Executive Director at California Virtual Campus and Associate Vice Chancellor at Foothill -Dianza Community College District. Marina, welcome to the podcast.


Marina Aminy (00:35.013)

I’m Matthew, thanks for having me.


Matthew Sterenberg (00:37.23)

So we’re talking about course sharing today. Help me out, what is course sharing?


Marina Aminy (00:44.261)

So it’s this idea that students no longer are just limited to the one institution that they’re enrolled in in terms of their ability to take classes and finish their degrees. So if you think about the California Community College system, which is where I’m from, we have 116 colleges and students are typically enrolled in one of those colleges as a home college. But then they’re also restricted by whatever is being offered in the portfolio of classes in each class schedule.

So the idea of course sharing is sort of the question of what would happen if we opened up the walls of our class schedule to allow students to take classes seamlessly and easily at any of the other institutions in our consortium or in our system. And that’s really what we’ve started to do in the California Community College system is allowing students without that secondary application, without all of the bureaucracy that we’ve set up to take those classes easily at other institutions that are not their home college.


Matthew Sterenberg (01:39.15)

Can you give me an idea of what a perfect case study would be for a student? Who is this really for? Who does this meet the needs of?


Marina Aminy (01:49.861)

I would say all students could really benefit from it, but in particular, we found that transfer students, students who are bound for a four -year institution are really benefiting from it. So I’ll use my own son as a case study because I think his example is a good one. He was at a California community college and he was accepted to a four -year institution. And when he found out that he was accepted at this college, he was super excited. And it was like April at that point when he got the admission. Now the classes in his community college, had already started or were in progress. However, his admission to that four -year institution was conditional on him completing a second semester of calculus. And he had no option because his current school did not offer any more classes. They were done. It was already April. And he needed to have that class posted for spring in order to hold on to his admission. So he was able to go use the exchange, which is what we call our course sharing platform, look for a calculus class that was being offered at another district that had a quarter system.

And so that class started a little bit later, still posted as a spring class. He was able to take that class successfully and hold onto his admission. So that’s a great example of how a student can kind of hold onto admission. Also imagine that you’re a student who has young children or you are taking, you know, you have a part -time job or a full -time job, which a lot of our students have, or you have a disability.

I always talk about Jessica Lopez, who is a student at Coastline Community College, and she was born with no hands or feet. And she clearly has some difficulties getting around physically to a campus. So whatever your reasons are, you are not able to come on campus and take these classes physically. You need that online class, but your class is not being offered online. Let’s say it’s a specialty class or STEM classes, for example, or courses with a science lab.

A lot of colleges are not in a position or they don’t have the resources or staffing to offer those classes. And so that student is going to have to jump through a lot of hoops to clear their job schedule, to find childcare, to find transportation, to get to campus. But through course sharing, they can now access that class really easily because it’s being offered at a nearby institution that they can take fully online.


Matthew Sterenberg (04:02.862)

Yeah, it’s so cool that you’re leveraging the power of this system and this what’s great about California. It’s the size and the scope of what you’re doing. So 115 colleges and you’re giving students the ability to have access to the size of what you have, the 350 ,000 courses that you offer on a yearly basis, which is pretty incredible. And I think if you talk to any college student registering for classes and the availability of classes, you know, my experience, it was always, I didn’t get in. I’ll have to wait for next year. It’s kind of a silly process when this class could be being taught 20 miles away. Why can I take it? I want to take it as soon as I can because I’m on a certain pathway and the longer I have to wait, the less likely I am to continue to persist. Right.


Marina Aminy (04:56.215)

Yeah, and I would even change that to what if that class is being offered 600 miles away? Because California is a big state and in some cases we have a huge geographic space between where those courses are being offered. And yeah, why are we making students fill out a secondary application? Remind us of all of the things that we already know about them that we have in another existing application somewhere in the system. And then wait for admission, wait for what we call studentization or provisioning.

They have to get an email address. They have to get access to their Canvas shell. They have to get Canvas to their student portal. And then, you know, sometimes schools require an orientation or some other required, you know, onboarding mechanism. By that time, you may have already lost that student. You know, what we find with first -gen students, for example, and I was a first -generation student myself, so I know this is true. You know, some students don’t have the persistence or the grit to hang in there to get through all of the muck that we’ve created for them in order to get the class that they need.

So one of the really important principles of course sharing is, thou shalt not fill out another application and go through this whole rig of a roll. We’ve got your darn application somewhere in the system. We’re going to use an API to pull that information and transmit it to that next institution on your behalf. And when you’re done with that class, we don’t want you to have to ever pick up a phone and ask for your records or your transcripts.

We’re going to transmit those transcripts on your behalf because we already know you’re going to need the transcript. You’re not just taking calculus two for fun. Like we don’t think a lot of students are doing this. You need those credits for something. And so really ensuring that all of those services and processes are very easy and student centered. Cross enrollment takes two minutes, around two minutes on the platform made possible by Parchment. And essentially a student from beginning to end can add that second class at another institution in two minutes versus kind of what you outlined, the months and months and months that they’re typically waiting for answers and provisioning and studentization. So I think it’s incredibly student -centered and exciting and brings a marketplace to the student and empowers the student.


Matthew Sterenberg (07:00.078)



Matthew Sterenberg (07:06.35)

I love that you said student centered because there’s a few things that like universally people dislike, which is paperwork, having to duplicate efforts and the fact that I don’t have to have a second email address that I have to check or the fact that I don’t need another canvas instance or filling out another application that I’ve already done. And really the answer a lot of times is just, we haven’t, we just didn’t get to this problem yet. And.


Marina Aminy (07:19.685)



Matthew Sterenberg (07:34.03)

That’s the reason you have to do it. It’s just kind of bureaucracy and the fact that you’re cutting through all of that is really cool. But how did this get started? Why did you pursue this initiative? You’re making it sound, we’re kind of almost at the end here. Like it’s great, but so much work went into this. Why did you undertake this course sharing initiative?


Marina Aminy (07:55.141)

I would love to take credit for it, but it really preceded my time with the California Virtual Campus. Around 12 or 13 years ago, there was really this movement to think about a system -wide capacity for taking online classes, improving the quality of online classes, creating an ecosystem for students. And from that was birthed sort of our organization, which used to be called the Online Education Initiative, the OEI. And it was this big investment from the chancellor’s office that said, hey, we want…

the OEI to go forth and help first get all the colleges, all 115 colleges on a unified learning management system. And that was a big deal because we had Blackboard, we had Canvas, we had D2L, there were several homegrown instances of LMSs that colleges were using. And so the OEI led that work and initially kind of went through a full request for proposals and screening and got everybody on board. And one of the critical things, that led to our system choosing Canvas as our learning management system was its ability to do what you kind of alluded to earlier, is the Canvas trust that allows us to unify dashboards. So a student can take classes at like four different institutions, but the Canvas trust allows us to keep everything in their home dashboard. So they never have to go and find that second, third, and fourth Canvas login. They can stay in their own home login. And even then, the idea around that trust was, well, when we make cross -enrollment work, when course sharing works, we want the learning management system to kind of work in tandem with that goal. So those were ideas that Foothill -DeAnza Community College District, which was the founding district for a lot of these ideas kind of really forwarded. And then from there, really, they started adding colleges and increasing capacity and so forth.


Matthew Sterenberg (09:42.926)

So one of the tensions within course sharing is the home college versus the teaching college. So, and there’s a few myths, I think we can maybe myth bust right now, which is, if I’m the home college, my students may be taking a class elsewhere. What if they leave? What if they, you know, enjoy their experience more at another college? Won’t this hurt my ability to retain students?

And then how have you navigated who is a home college and who is a teaching college? Cause ideally I think every college would be like, we’ll take more students. You know, we’ve got these courses that we want to fill. How did you balance all of that?


Marina Aminy (10:25.349)

Yeah, so that was really, I think, a political conversation that many colleges had. And that is my background creating ruckus today. Let’s hope for the best. It humanizes us, right? We’ve all got pets and children and things like that. But this was really a political question, right? How do we ensure that colleges are not freaking out and upset about losing students? Because this was really the fear that many colleges had.


Matthew Sterenberg (10:35.726)

We’re not cutting that out for the record that is staying in.


Marina Aminy (10:55.301)

which was, hey, all of our students, like you said, are gonna go elsewhere, we’re gonna lose enrollments, we’re gonna lose revenue. Well, first the data has not shown that. You know, really, we’ve had over 11 ,500 enrollments this year in the system, which is great, it’s a good number. The vast majority of those, over 80 % of those, have been single course enrollments, which indicates that, hey, students truly are using cross-enrollment for that one thing that they need, that one class that they need.

Maybe it’s that ethnic studies course that’s now required for transfer for CSUs. Maybe it’s that one math class. They’re not coming on and taking dozens of classes. So that was the first fear. The second one, we kind of alleviated through policy. So we max out students to two courses per term. They’re not allowed to take more than two. The third is they have to be currently active in their home institution. So they can’t…not be at a home institution and part of that home community in order to cross enroll. And then the last thing is that our system, the California Community Colleges apportionment, structures it such that you get money for completions and for enrollment. So a student can finish their degree and transfer in a timely manner and the home college benefits. And if they get enrollments as a teaching college, then you benefit because of the revenue from that tuition.

So, It’s truly an exchange in the sense that both home colleges and teaching colleges benefit. But as much as I have been able to share data that has helped alleviate many of the fears that people have had around losing enrollments, it’s been mostly a net gain for the vast majority of colleges.


Matthew Sterenberg (12:35.214)

Yeah, it’s important to align the incentives. And I think this is also the benefit of the system wide approach where we all have the same goals and the same strategy to a degree. Whereas if you just had course sharing that was completely open, for instance, you know, any university could participate. I think there would be a little bit more. I don’t know. I think people would be a little bit more nervous about it.


Marina Aminy (12:53.317)

Thank you.


Matthew Sterenberg (13:02.638)

This is a difficult question, but as you think you’ve done this with the community college system, as you think about the UC system and the CSU system, what are the possibilities of where this could go? Because obviously, associate’s degree, great. A lot of your students are going to try to get a bachelor’s degree. If you put on your five years, your visionary hat, what do you think the possibilities are of these types of systems?


Marina Aminy (13:14.501)



Marina Aminy (13:29.797)

Yeah, I have openly talked about my vision for the exchange. You know, after we finished all implementations in the California Community College system, and we’re about two thirds of the way there, we’ve made excellent progress, I think the vision has to be to include CSUs and UCs in this course sharing model. And then also beyond that, the K -12s and really extending to like dual enrollment. I think it’s very, very powerful for students to have this singular journey in their education from, you know, elementary school through career, really, right? Postgraduate and career. Stay in that one instance of Canvas that they’re familiar with. Have the ability to carry forth their records and their transcripts and their learner passports. I think these are very exciting parts of the vision. I’ve had conversations with my colleagues at the CSUs and UCs. The nice thing is that they are currently using Canvas, which makes, again, that Canvas trust relationship very much reachable and practical for us to achieve.

And then furthermore, I know the CSUs also utilize the Parchment Course Sharing platform for summer cross -enrollment. So, you know, they’re dabbling in some of this. They’re not as far ahead as California is. I think we’re ahead of many of the other systems. I’m familiar with my colleagues in other states who are doing this work. But the fact that we have the infrastructure in place to make this happen is very exciting and very much doable. The next step is going to be that outreach to my colleagues at the four-year institutions.


Matthew Sterenberg (14:57.422)

So you’ve done a lot of work on this, but there’s been a lot of challenges, I’m sure. What are the, if you could go back and do it all again, or if you were recommending a state maybe that wants to take this on or a system, you made it sound easy, but we all know that institutions like their autonomy, you know, and there’s going to be political elements, which you highlighted. What are the, some of the landmines, what are the barriers? If you could go back and do it differently, what are some of the things that you would, you would do different?


Marina Aminy (15:15.909)




Marina Aminy (15:26.949)

Yeah, I think one major thing that shifted our colleges’ interests in getting on board was that our statewide chancellor’s office tied some emergency funding to participating in the exchange. And that gave us a tremendous amount of velocity in terms of colleges opting in to implement because it meant that they’re getting some funds that they could then apply toward that work and toward that personnel and resource need. And it was life changing.

So if I could go back I would advocate for some funding earlier on so that that could be made available to colleges. You know, it took us several years to get to like 16 colleges. And that was that was rough, you know, getting the first 16 on board because we had to convince them to kind of do everything, figure everything out, build the plane as we were flying it, so to speak. It was a lot. But then in the last two years, we’ve added like another 40 or 50 colleges. So it’s that.

That shift in terms of the incentivization is a really big deal. So I would recommend to colleges, speak with your leadership and see if you can attach some money to implementation. I think that can really help. The second would be to be patient and to kind of speak the language and learn the language of every stakeholder group. When there is resistance, when there are questions, it’s gonna be different from every group. The folks in instruction are going to have their set of sort of concerns that need to be addressed.

The folks in counseling, financial aid, IT, every group has some legitimate questions that you have to be patient and work through and meet with them and address. And then they’ll tell you to go away and then you’ll come back and you’ll have that conversation again. So having the ability to get through some of those conversations is really critical. And then the third thing would be talk to your colleagues who are already doing this. I often have my colleagues from other states reach out and be like, I heard you’re doing course sharing, tell me about that.

And we start just, giving them the basics of like, here’s what you need in order to get started. And then also rethink your learning management system, right? What are the current uses? Do you have everybody on a different LMS? Could you potentially get them on board? What are your transcripting solutions? Could you get that unified? What’s the interoperability between the ERPs that your colleges are using? Having everybody on a single ERP is enormously helpful if at all possible. So.


Marina Aminy (17:48.325)

Setting up the infrastructure early on, I think, is very, very useful, and it avoids a lot of customization and shifting later on.


Matthew Sterenberg (17:56.814)

Yeah, just the thinking about the systems talking to each other and how complex that can be, but how simple it can be when everybody’s on the same system, you know, I think is that’s, that’s Herculean enough to just have that conversation and then to think about how they interact with each other is another, so the problem statement, how, what data did you point to?

When you were trying to convince people that this needed solving. You gave us the case study, which is kind of an anecdotal, hey, there’s someone who’s working, it doesn’t fit with their schedule, but did you feel like you had to present data or where did you go to really feel like this is a problem?


Marina Aminy (18:41.733)

Yeah, I think the initial data sets that were used were evidence that a certain number of our students are already doing what we call swirling, you know, and which means that your students are already leaving your institution to take classes elsewhere. You know, they’re not wanting to sit around for you to offer the one class that they need online every two years when they know that a neighboring institution. However, we’re making them do it the hard route.

We’re making them wait for admission, wait for studentization, email address, all that. So we pulled some initial data that showed that a good portion of California community college students were already swirling and that their needs were not being adequately served through this bureaucratic mess of process that we’ve created for them. So that was, I think, really helpful. There were some student surveys that were done initially as well that kind of generated a lot of interest. So I think those are the kind of things that colleges appreciate.

And then I think kind of the logical question that I have for college presidents is like, hey, looks like you lost about 2000 students last year. Do you have any information on where they went currently? And often the answer is no, we don’t really have a lot of data. When students stop enrolling, we kind of lose track of them and then we just lose revenue and we lose students. We don’t know what’s happening. Well, the exchange has some very powerful dashboards that let you know exactly where your students went, what they did, where they took the class.

And then that is power for you to regroup and rethink of how to get them back. So for example, if you lost 50 students and they’re just in some black hole and you don’t know, you can’t do anything about it. But if I told you, you lost 50 students last semester to online calculus, and they went to these other four colleges that offer fully online calculus sections, that’s information for you to come back to your department and say, maybe we should offer online calculus. We could hold on to our students and they’re not losing. So.

The data that we’re able to offer is pretty powerful and that’s useful in terms of getting folks on.


Matthew Sterenberg (20:40.078)

Yeah, I think about a small liberal arts college, for instance, that is, I mean, it’s a challenge right now for a lot of colleges in terms of enrollment. And they might feel the pressure to have every kind of program that students are interested in. And so you obviously have the system wide approach of this community college, but it could work for a lot of colleges as long as you have your network of schools.

Hey, we don’t have to stand up this, you know, Dutch language program, you know, that our students maybe want because this other college, it’s not worth it for us to have half full classes. This other college actually has a great engineering program or whatever it may be. Pick the class or program that you like. But I think it allows someone to pursue maybe the campus life that they want without the college exactly having everything that they need.

And so even for a smaller college, I think it gives them the flexibility to not feel like they have to stand up every single.


Marina Aminy (21:45.637)

It does, but it also requires like a mindset shift, right? I think sometimes institutions feel like they own their students, like there are students and so we don’t want to share them. And that’s, you know, I get that we have some ownership in terms of our community of students and we’ve done all this work to support them. We want them to stay in our institutions, but it’s not the most student centered outlook, perhaps.

What’s more student -centered is to give the students what they need when they need it so that they can complete their educational goals and move forward and get jobs and get what they need done. So it’s very, very hard to make that argument. But once folks get it, like, I got to shift from what’s good for the institution, which is to hold onto everybody all the time and to be everything, to what’s good for the student. And when you kind of can get past that, I think it can be very powerful. But that’s a hard thing kind of mentally for folks sometimes to assimilate.


Matthew Sterenberg (22:41.838)

Marina, is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have asked you or any topics that we didn’t cover that we should have?


Marina Aminy (22:48.261)

No, just that, you know, course sharing is the future. And I think if colleges and systems want to get on board, it can only be good for students. And California is a good model of that in terms of just the numbers of students that are organically finding themselves to the exchange. And then really thinking of the exchange and course sharing as more than that. So at some point, incorporating competencies, you know, we have competency based education that’s quickly becoming a thing statewide and nationwide. And.

How do we then use a course exchange or course sharing for competency sharing? Could you use a course sharing network and circuit to also include tutoring hour sharing, librarian hours sharing, counseling hours, mental health services, and telehealth? The possibilities are endless because in setting up that network and that system of APIs between the colleges, you can expand it to include a lot of things.


Matthew Sterenberg (23:41.71)

Marina, thank you so much for joining me. I really enjoyed it.


Marina Aminy (23:44.965)

Thank you so much. It was a pleasure, Matthew.


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