A new online educational consortium consisting of community colleges, a research university and a private university is making it possible to earn a higher education degree from respected and accredited institutions without leaving home.

The Edlearn Consortium consists of seven Seattle-area community colleges and two universities based in Washington. This innovative structure allows students to move seamlessly from an Associate Degree to a Bachelor Degree and on to a Master's degree using a single online portal and point of contact.

Students choose a degree or certificate program and designate a "home campus," from which they generally access library, advising and other online student services. They also have access to the consortium's "concierge advisor," whose sole purpose is to assist the student in navigating concurrent registration at multiple institutions.

The consortium provides advantages for both students and the member institutions. First, from the student's perspective, the consortium's prices are extremely competitive because most members are public colleges.

Second, students can start (or finish) their program online and travel to the member college to complete it, or finish the entire degree online. Third, consortia in general provide for a much wider range of courses and have arrangements between member colleges that encourage credit transferability and seamless transition between degrees.

From the institutional perspective, the high cost of developing distance learning programs has hindered schools who cannot develop a comprehensive enough set of offerings to effectively market them unless they charged an extremely high tuition rates. State college funding formulae did not envision distance learning programs serving out of state students, so public schools typically run their online operations as "self supporting."

Public colleges also do not have large marketing resources since their traditional mission typically orients them to local markets. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to for-profit education providers, many of whom are not accredited.

Edlearn allow member colleges to pool both their curricular resources and their marketing funds to compete for online students.