Consortium Agreement: A Possible Short-Cut to Graduation

Krystyna Dias .

Higher education, even public higher education, is expensive. Students often need to get creative to make earning a degree affordable. One way to do so is to take summer classes which earn the same number of hours as semester courses but are completed on an accelerated schedule and allow the student to graduate a year or more ahead of the usual schedule. Not only do students save on expenses by accelerating their course work, they can also start their careers sooner.

Students can reduce the cost of their summer enrollment in two ways: Living with parents or other family members who will support their living expenses or taking courses at a less expensive institution or both! This is where consortium agreement may come into play.

By definition, a consortium agreement is an agreement between one or more eligible institutions to allow students to earn credits away from the institution where they are matriculated and, if otherwise eligible, receive financial aid to boot. Agreements can be blanket agreements that cover all or a group of students or can be created on a student-by-student basis. The institution from which the student will receive their degree is considered the home institution while the other institution is considered the host institution. As long as students complete some course work at their home institutions, they can take as many courses at host institutions as have been approved for transfer.

A valid consortium agreement contains the following information:

  • The school that will grant the degree or certificate
  • The student’s tuition, fees, and food and housing at each school
  • The student’s enrollment status at each school
  • The school that will be responsible for disbursing aid and monitoring student eligibility
  • The procedures for calculating awards, disbursing aid, monitoring satisfactory progress and other student eligibility requirements, keeping records, and returning funds when the student withdraws

Usually, the home institution processes financial aid for the student, but there are situations where it makes more sense for the host institution to do so. In either case, the institution that disburses financial aid is responsible for maintaining the records, ensuring the student is meeting satisfactory academic progress requirements, and returning funds when required. Institutions processing financial aid for students attending another institution under consortium are not considered to be third-party servicers.

So, what happens when the home and host institutions use different enrollment units? For example, the home institution issues semester hours while the host issues quarter hours. The host enrollment measure must be converted to the home institution’s measure as follows…

Step 1: Determine what proportion of the home school’s measure the host school’s measure comprises. For example, the home institution offers semester hours, and the host institution offers quarter hours. Based on the hosts’ academic calendar, you and your academic team determine that a quarter hour is the equivalent of 50% of a semester hour.

Step 2: Calculate the equivalent number of hours that apply to the home institution given the number of hours the student will have at the host institution. In our example, let’s say the student is enrolled for 12 quarter hours at the host school, the calculation is 12 X .5 = 6 semester hours.

When students are taking courses at multiple institutions, repeat these steps for each that do not use the same measure as the home institution, then add them all together to determine the total number of semester hours.

It is possible for students to attend other institutions under consortium agreement at any time during the academic year, not just in the summer. The most common reason is when the student finds a study abroad or other special program not offered by their own college.

In summary, being able to take summer courses close to home or at a less expensive college will reduce the time it takes to earn a degree, allow students to save money, and enter the workforce sooner, so it’s a win-win-win situation for all. It’s also a nice counseling option to have in your back pocket for students experiencing temporary financial difficulties, so they can still make progress toward their degree.

If all the FAFSA® delays have left you behind in your summer aid processing, check out our website or email for information about the Higher Education Assistance Group’s interim staffing solutions.