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CA Universities Increase Online Learning Opportunities; Controversial Bill Held for 2014

August 07, 2013

With additional funding directed to higher education as part of the FY14 budget, the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems announced efforts to boost access to online courses for current full-time students this fall. The goal is to overcome space shortages in classrooms and help graduate more students on time. Meanwhile, a bill that would require the state’s colleges and universities to grant credit for online courses taken through for-profit groups, including providers of massive open online courses (MOOCs), is considered dead in the legislature for now. The bill’s main backer, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he is waiting to see the results of the new online efforts by the state’s public higher education systems before moving forward, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The FY14 budget establishes the first-year investment in a multi-year, stable funding plan for the CSU and UC systems. Each system will receive a 5 percent increase of $125 million – the first stage of a four-year funding schedule that will result in a 20 percent general fund increase for the systems, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s press office. Although no money was earmarked for the initiatives, a portion of the funding increase will be used to “help remove the curricular bottlenecks through online technology,” according to CSU officials. CSU plans to launch a systemwide concurrent enrollment program offering more than 30 additional online courses across its 23 campuses. UC announced plans to increase the number of online offerings available during the regular academic year without charging additional fees.

With a similar goal of increasing access to the most in-demand courses, SB 520 was introduced in the legislature amid heavy criticism from academics and some fanfare from technology companies. Under the bill, a pool of 50 classes would be selected from which students could gain credit outside of the university system. The controversy stemmed from a provision that would allow the classes to come from commercial providers or out-of-state colleges, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Some academics raised questions about the quality of the courses and voiced concern about teaching jobs being lost, the article adds.

Other states have embraced partnerships with providers of Internet-based programs for higher education to promote inclusion and increase affordability. Georgia Tech announced earlier this year the option of a low-cost, online master’s degree in computer science made possible through an agreement with Udacity, a privately-owned web-based company offering MOOCs, and AT&T. A competing company, Silicon Valley-based Coursera, announced in May a partnership with university systems in nine states that will use Coursera’s platform to experiment with individual pilot projects tailored to their needs (read the article from Inside Higher Ed).

The reach of an online platform also allows for international collaboration, such as one involving the U.S. and India formed during a Higher Education Dialogue in June. The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay entered into a memorandum of understanding with edX, founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, to offer free online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience.

Preparing an educated workforce for jobs with critical shortages is a major priority for economic development leaders in many states, and using technology to attract students to those jobs is gaining momentum in higher education. California’s controversial bill may be dead – or at least on hold until next year, but considering the amount of attention it garnered and the pace at which technology has pervaded the traditional model of learning, other states may be prompted to follow suit with similar legislation.

Californiahigher ed, state budget, stem