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OEI ConsortiumThe idea of balancing of enrollments through seamless registration across the California Community Colleges (CCC) was born of an economic recession that saw colleges having to severely limit course offerings and turn away over 400,000 students.

If a mechanism for allowing students to efficiently complete their educational goals by taking classes seamlessly at multiple colleges had existed in 2011, those students may not have been denied access as they could have been redirected to empty “seats” at other colleges. The Online Education Initiative (OEI) Course Exchange is an effort to establish that mechanism within the CCC.

If an economic downturn of the magnitude seen only a few years ago ever happens again, the CCC will be better prepared to keep students learning, while at the same time being able to serve students today to meet their educational goals.

In 2016, we find ourselves in an environment that no longer turns students away from classes in general, but often the courses students need to complete are completely filled and/or student scheduling needs don’t match the available class offerings. We also know that:

  • In 2012-13, it took a median of four years to graduate from our “two year” programs, and
  • In 2014, the average time to completion of a two-year degree in the CCC was seven years, while the average time to transfer was four years. (Source: RP Group)

While this data was partially a function of the economically driven backlog, it still usually takes students well beyond two years to complete their goals. While many CCC students are part-time and have other commitments keeping them from completing quickly, other students simply cannot find the classes that they need to complete.

Why Now?

As an open-access system that serves all Californians who want an education, we must pay attention to the issues around availability of classes that may keep students from progressing. As you likely know, there are many reasons why students do not complete on time. One reason is that the cost of education, even at our community colleges, is higher than many students can afford in current economic times. Students do what they can to gain an education that will help them become economically solvent in a difficult environment.

In a study done at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, published in October 2015, a finding that is significant to the OEI’s work is as follows:

“…Over the past 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have worked while attending school. And the number of working students has grown as college enrollment and tuition have increased. While the percentage dipped slightly during and after the recession, the overall number of working students has increased over the past quarter-century.”
CNBC article, Oct. 29, 2015

The study itself (“Learning While Earning: The New Normal”) covers the issues of working students, in-depth, and recommends that, as a way of assisting these students, colleges should provide “convenient learning options, such as distance learning or online courses.”

Georgetown University study, "Learning While Earning: The New Normal:Many of our students have to pay for their living expenses as well as to keep resulting tuition loans as low as possible, so they work AND go to school. Facing the reality that many students have to work to make ends meet is an important factor in how we plan to meet their needs.

How many Californians either cannot get to a college campus often enough to take the courses they need in a timely way, or don’t even know that distance education is available to them? When we engage in activities that increase the ability of students to access education while still working for their own or their families’ livelihood, we help them improve their future and the future of California’s economy.

The OEI is providing colleges with a complement of important resources designed to allow for the addition of online courses locally and across the system, which will help provide access to Californians wanting to learn. The OEI Course Exchange mechanism—which would be better referred to as a “student exchange”—is just one of those resources. How we decide to use the mechanism in the future will be a result of how tuned in to student need we are, and how creative we become in meeting that need.

California’s community colleges have a rich tradition of delivering high-quality online education experiences through their development at local colleges. The exchange is not an attempt to create a 114th college. Rather it is a way to connect the amazing work that is currently going on in online learning, in courses all across our system.

Opportunities For Use Of Exchange Technology

The original idea was that some colleges have waitlists in core courses, causing students to delay goal completion. Other colleges may have vacant seats in those same courses that could fill the completion gaps. The vision for the exchange was originally developed to address this situation.

However, colleges also have courses that are so specialized or at an advanced level that they do not fill every semester, are needed for degree and/or transfer completion, and have to be offered once a year or once every two years. Cross-college enrolling could reduce completion times for students needing those specialty or capstone courses.

Another opportunity happens when colleges may be just one or two courses away from being able to offer specific degrees at their local campus. Incorporating a few courses from within the exchange may allow those institutions to offer those degrees and develop new ones within a consortium of colleges. Increasing access to additional degrees locally may increase the availability of more degrees across the state.

The brainstorming around the use of the exchange mechanism has really just begun and will, undoubtedly, lead to more opportunities for students.

Benefits To Students, Beyond Finding Available Classes

Students who need particular courses in order to complete a degree or transfer, but cannot get them at their home college, often locate online courses at other CCCs via the California Virtual Campus (CVC) Catalog or just by searching college websites. They must then complete the full application as well as a variety of matriculation and registration procedures at the additional colleges.

Applying to individual colleges is inefficient and often creates additional barriers for students, such as the need to re-take assessments, complete orientation and similar activities. Additionally, students cannot currently combine financial aid units across multiple colleges and may be losing critical support funds.

California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeWhen courses are completed, students must have transcripts sent to their home college to verify that degrees or transfer goals have been met, which takes time and incurs additional cost for both the student and the colleges. The work of attending multiple colleges in this manner is clearly a deficit for the student and limits the ability of colleges to advise and monitor the student as well.

This situation is called “swirling” and it is incredibly inefficient for the student, the colleges and the state of California. Research shows that at least 11 percent of our students swirl among several colleges outside their home campus. This number does not include students taking classes across their district colleges, which also often requires multiple applications and matriculation processes. The work of completion by swirling falls completely on the backs of our students and does nothing to support efficiencies across colleges.

OEI Course (Student) Exchange Goal: The goal of this component of the OEI is to facilitate student completion of their educational goals in an efficient manner saving them both time and money. The current focus is on enabling students to enroll in courses that are critical to their completion but not readily available to them at their home college; it is definitely not on creating a system in which students can earn the majority of units necessary for a full degree through the exchange. Though the ability of students to complete degrees fully online by taking some courses from an additional college may be possible in the future for consortium colleges, the intent of this effort is to encourage completion of the goals set at the college that is the established home college (college where residency for degree completion has been established).

Home vs. Teaching College: As we describe the design of the exchange it becomes important to understand the players. Colleges choose to participate in the exchange as a home and/or teaching college, and must be part of a consortium that has developed formal agreements around business processes and access to students. The home college is where residency for degree completion has been established. The home college gets credit for the degree completion and/or transfer attained. The teaching college is the college offering courses to students from their own and other colleges. The teaching college receives apportionment for enrollments. At the present time in the development of the exchange, all colleges in the pilot phases are both home and teaching colleges. In this way, they will be exchanging students!

Exchange Authorization: The OEI Course Exchange involves a number of colleges that have agreed to participate in a consortium. The consortium provides a legal mechanism to allow for many of the agreement processes, where allowed by regulation. For example, enrolled units may be combined across colleges that are members of a consortium for purposes of determining student financial aid eligibility. The OEI Exchange Consortium has been established with a charter and a particular set of registration agreements developed for the initial eight pilot colleges that will test the mechanism in Fall 2016. Throughout the next few years, the consortium will be developing and refining the agreements and the mechanism!

A minimum viable product (MVP) that will be the initial technical mechanism for the exchange is currently in development and an expected roll-out of some of the required functions is expected in Summer 2016. It capitalizes on technology advances that have happened over the years that include the common application process (OpenCCCApply), and the Course Identification Numbering System (C-ID). C-ID formally articulates courses both across the CCC and into the California State University. The exchange mechanism development is being done by a team working under the guidance and supervision of the CCC Technology Center at Butte College in collaboration with the OEI Management Team and with the OEI Consortium.

The work on the exchange is daunting at best, as the complexities are as numerous as the multitude of independent businesses processes at our 113 colleges. Those working to create this systemwide opportunity do so with great enthusiasm and dedication. From the individual teaching faculty members who have worked hard to align their courses to the course design standards, through college consortium members and OEI Single Points of Contact (SPOCs), to the OEI Management Staff and CCC Chancellor’s Office staff members, and the CCC Technology Center team, and finally to the IT professionals, Admissions & Records staffs and enrollment management administrators at the colleges, the dedication and hard work is undertaken to improve opportunities for the students of California. This type of effort is one that cannot be understated or underappreciated and really is an example of the greatness of the people who are members of California Community Colleges community.

Details Of The Exchange Effort

There are, of course, intricate workflow processes in the mechanism that include outlining when students receive messaging regarding how to enroll in exchange courses and where technical actions occur; the more technical components are currently a part of the development process toward an MVP. The idea is that students will be strongly encouraged through the design of the mechanism to select their home-college classes first, leaving the exchange available for courses to be selected as additional courses needed for completion. As one might guess, there are a lot of individual actions needed to make the exchange a viable reality. Below is a diagram that explains a very basic workflow of the exchange.OEI Exchange Registration Flow


Initial Specifics For Exchange Process

In an attempt to make the student experience within the exchange one that is both easy to navigate and rich with support resources, initial policies have been developed for outlining colleges’ participation. These requirements, like all parts of this work, are in pilot phase and may be revised as the process continues.

Course Exchange Participation Requirements:

  • Colleges offering courses through the OEI Exchange must be part of the OEI Consortium and be willing to honor the reciprocity agreements of the consortium.
  • To enable seamless and consistent access for students to course content and deployed student success resources, colleges must adopt Canvas as their course management system and be using single sign-on to authenticate a CCC user ID.
  • Courses must have been offered in Canvas to local college students for at least one semester prior to being offered as part of the OEI Exchange. This will ensure that the course has been fully migrated and tested in the new Canvas environment.
  • Faculty must submit courses for acceptance in the OEI Exchange in the following manner:
    • Application submission
    • Initial course review in Canvas
    • Meet accessibility requirements
    • Be aligned to the OEI Course Design Rubric
    • Be re-reviewed in Canvas to ensure alignment

Canvas As Sole CMS: It is the intention of the OEI that colleges participating in the Course Exchange also adopt Canvas as their college-wide course management system to ensure that students aren’t subjected to a variety of course management systems at the same time while taking courses from different institutions.

In addition, it is the intent of the OEI that use of Canvas will provide the effective deployment of integrated resources for students in a high-quality, responsive learning environment. In addition, a common CMS not only takes advantage of economies of scale when purchasing, but also provides effective and cost-efficient professional development activities for faculty and staff.

Current Pilot Policies, 2016-17

General Pilot Exchange Term Limitations: Courses offered live in the exchange may be offered by the pilot colleges for a total of three terms in the pilot instance of Canvas. By the end of the third semester of offering exchange courses, colleges must commit to adopting Canvas as their CMS and have identified an implementation timeline or they will be expected to remove their courses from the exchange.

Term & Adoption Limitations: The initial eight full-launch pilot colleges will offer courses that are aligned with the OEI Course Design Standards. The courses will initially be offered to students in Fall 2016 in the pilot Canvas environment.

Tentative Timeline, 8 Full-Launch Pilot Colleges:

  • Fall 2015: Offer courses in the Canvas CMS to local students with Tutoring and Readiness solutions integrated. Course review and alignment processes will be ongoing through Spring 2016. (Completed)

  • Spring 2016: Offer courses in Canvas CMS to local students with Tutoring and Readiness solutions integrated, courses completely ready to go. Proctoring solutions implemented, baseline data collected at the end of Spring 2016. Processes involved with course alignment may still be taking place. (In progress)

  • Fall 2016: Offer courses in Canvas in the OEI Exchange using MVP and manual processes as needed.

Tentative Timeline, 16 Tutoring & Readiness Pilot Colleges:

  • Fall 2015: Offer courses in current CMS to local students. Integration of Tutoring and Readiness solutions where possible. (Ongoing)
  • Courses continue with the review and revision process through Spring 2016 and Fall 2016, and participate in exchange implementation activities for entrance to the consortium beginning in Spring 2017.
  • Courses in the exchange must be offered in Canvas during the Spring 2016 or Fall 2016 semester to local students to be eligible for the OEI Exchange.

For ongoing updates, please visit the OEI website at, and TechEDge News at

Pat James is Executive Director of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative