California Could Soon Have Its First Fully-Online Community College

Digital Learning in Higher Ed

California Could Soon Have Its First Fully-Online Community College

By Sydney Johnson     Jan 11, 2018

California Could Soon Have Its First Fully-Online Community College

California is one step closer to having a fully online public community college.

In a state budget proposal issued on Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown called for spending $120 million to create the online institution within the 114-campus California Community College system. The college would aim to help 2.5 million students earn credentials through more-flexible and affordable digital learning options.

The governor has long supported the idea of an online community college in California. Previously, Gov. Brown asked California Community Colleges chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley to “take whatever steps are necessary” to establish an institution that only offers online programs.

The 2018-19 budget presented on Wednesday proposed to open the online college by fall 2019. Of the total dollars being proposed for the college, $100 million would be one-time funding to design and develop the infrastructure for the college, and the remaining $20 million would be ongoing funds.

The proposal for the project states the target demographic is “students who do not yet have a postsecondary credential and whose schedules do not fit into traditional, classroom-based settings”—though any California resident would be able to take courses and programs at the online college. Of the 2.5 million students that the college aims to serve, about 80 percent are working adults and 49 percent are Hispanic.

The proposal also calls for the online community college to focus on teaching advanced manufacturing, healthcare, child development and in-home support services.

The backdrop to the proposal is a growing number of students, in particular at public and private nonprofit institutions, who take online courses. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that 30 percent of undergraduate students enrolled in at least one online education course in 2016, up from 27.1 percent in 2014, Inside Higher Ed reports. And community college students were more likely than students at both public and private four-year institutions to be enrolled in at least one distance-education course.

A report by Babson Study Research Group also shows that while distance education has steadily increased over the last 14 years, the number of students studying on campus decreased by 6.4 percent (totalling more than 1 million students) from 2012 to 2016.

The new college appears to follow another trend in the higher education: competency-based education. “Competency-based education incorporates the knowledge and skills students acquired at a prior time of their lives,” the proposal for the college reads. “Examples of prior learning include prior military service, workplace training including apprenticeships, and approved certificates.”

Two other states have already introduced options similar to Gov. Brown’s higher ed proposal. The University of Wisconsin offers online degree paths through what it calls the UW Flexible Option. New York residents can also complete online degree programs through the State Univeristy of New York’s Open SUNY program, which allows learners to take courses from more than 470 degree programs within the SUNY system.

It’s also not the first online learning initiative introduced by Gov. Brown. In 2013, the governor announced a partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity, an online course startup, to offer three math classes on the company’s platform. The initiative was scrapped about six months later, however, after just 51 percent of the online students passed the courses, compared to 74 percent of students in traditional classes who passed.

In addition to funding for the online college, Wednesday’s budget also includes a proposal to freeze tuition hikes at the California State University and University of California campuses, as well as increase their funding by 3 percent.

The proposal now awaits approval by the California State Legislature in June to be passed as part of the budget, which takes effect July 1.

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