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California Budget Proposes Online Community College

California may open an all-online community college by 2019, if a line item in the proposed budget by Governor Jerry Brown makes the final cut. California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said the new institution would be targeted to offering short-term credential programs aimed at serving the working adults in the state who have some or no college experience and lack the time to enroll in a traditional community college. The goal: to help them earn higher wages.

Under the proposal, the program would receive $100 million in one-time funding and $20 million ongoing. The one-time costs would cover set-up of demonstration pilots; production of the technological infrastructure, including mobile-friendly options, and set-up of "student-centered supports" — as well as work related to obtaining accreditation. Ongoing costs would support licensing and maintenance of technology, professional development and training, the continuous assessment of student program pathways and faculty and staff salaries.

The college would follow a competency-based model, including recognizing skills already mastered by students. The institution would also experiment with tuition, possibly trying out a subscription-based model, which would provide an unlimited amount of learning within a set period, or eliminating fees upon demonstration of mastery.

Initial focus would be paid to vocational segments such as child development, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, in-home supportive services and the service sector. Courses would lead to "sub-associate degree credentials" intended to help people advance in their jobs.

"California community colleges are serving 2.1 million students each year, but we are still not meeting the needs of 2.5 million others who for a variety of reasons cannot attend classes on our campuses," said Oakley, during a press conference. "It's our responsibility to bring the campus to them, and we can do that through a fully online college." Those 2.5 million adults are only the ones aged 25 to 34. An additional 6.2 million adults with comparable education levels could also benefit from the college, he explained.

According to a statement by the community college system, the new online college wouldn't be competing for students already being served: The intended learners "cannot and do not access our traditional college programs."

The state's community college system already has an online program. The Online Education Initiative opened in 2016 to give students a way to take online courses at another institution when they're not available at their own. A course exchange program identifies courses that fulfill transfer requirements. Currently, there are 64 sections of 22 courses available through the OEI.

The Chancellor's Office views the new online college as different from OEI, in that it is primarily intended to serve workers who need less than an associate degree to excel.

The idea for the online school has been kicked around since May 2017, when Gov. Brown urged Oakley in a letter to "take whatever steps are necessary" to establish a new community college that exclusively offers fully online programs. The governor was presented with four options in November. The proposed budget, issued earlier this month, included funding to move forward with design and development of a college under a new college district operated by the state Chancellor's Office.

The proposal has broad support among education leaders, organized labor, employer groups and public policy and social justice organizations.

"The needs of our students are rapidly evolving, and it's important that community colleges evolve with them," said Brian King, chancellor for the Los Rios Community College District, in a prepared statement. "Online programs are now the preferred option for thousands of students in our state, especially those who are balancing full time jobs with their educational goals. This innovative approach will ensure that we can offer more opportunities for students to achieve academic success, without negatively impacting enrollment at our brick and mortar institutions."

"Online education with high-touch support is the only way to educate the 500,000 healthcare workers needed in the next 10 years," added Rebecca Miller, workforce director for a union of healthcare workers, in a prepared statement. "The future of care delivery demands that providers be digitally fluent and adapt quickly to new technologies. On-line education is long overdue for working adults."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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