California will expand online classes

California colleges and universities will add online classes to meet soaring demand, reports the Sacramento Bee. It’s the only way to avoid “paying ever-increasing tuition,” Gov. Jerry Brown told the University of California Board of Regents last month.

 Nearly one in four California community college students is expected to take at least one online course this year. Almost half the state’s 112 community colleges offer degrees and certificates that can be obtained without ever attending a campus class. Even so, enrollment bottlenecks at community colleges meant nearly a half-million students were on course waiting lists last year.

. . . San Jose State University launched an online project last month in which it is teaming with a Silicon Valley startup, Udacity, to offer two math courses and one statistics course to 100 students apiece. College credit will be given, with enrollment open not only to San Jose State students but also to veterans, military personnel and high school and community college students.

Brown’s proposed state budget includes $16.9 million for community colleges and $10 million apiece for the University of California and California State University systems to expand online options for high-demand, prerequisite courses.

A U.S. Department of Education analysis in 2009 of dozens of online education studies concluded that students who complete such classes learn more, on average, than those taking classroom courses, perhaps because they can repeat lectures and exercises as often as needed.

Reviewing the same online studies, however, the Community College Research Center cautioned that participating students tended to be prepared for college, so the findings might not apply equally to under-prepared students.

In California, community college students who take courses online are less likely to complete them than their peers in traditional classrooms, recording success rates of 57 percent vs. 67 percent respectively, in 2009-10.

It’s harder to learn in an online course, Andrew Campbell, 20, of Modesto Junior College, told the Bee. “You can try to communicate with instructors over email, but they have 500 students or something like that, so it’s difficult to get in touch,” Campbell said.

Dean Murakami, an American River College instructor and vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents community college instructors, said faculty are concerned about a massive shift to online courses. “There’s no way that you could have the kind of interaction that we think is necessary,” he said.

The state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst thinks the University of California system is getting too much money for old-style professor-in-classroom teaching, while low-cost community colleges are forced to turn away students.  Paying off debt, reducing pension liabilities and reversing community college deferrals should be the state’s higher education priorities, the analyst recommended.