On a wait list? For-profit offers low-cost option

Nearly half a million community college students are on wait lists in California this fall. UniversityNow, a “social venture” based in San Francisco, is offering a low-cost, online option. California community college students will be able to sign up for 19 general-education courses offered online by Patten University at the community college price: $46 per credit ($138 for a three-credit course) plus $40 total for books. Courses will run from Nov. 5 through Dec. 21.

In addition to instructors for each class, enrolled students will each be assigned an advisor who can provide support and counseling. Students can take up to two classes per term and four classes per calendar year under this initiative.

UniversityNow doesn’t sign up students for financial aid, figuring they can afford to pay the cost themselves. The company also owns New Charter University, which offers relatively inexpensive online courses, but not this cheap.

Patten, which started as a Christian nonprofit in Oakland, is accredited, but was on probation when it was bought by UniversityNow this summer.

Will Patten’s course credits transfer? Probably, says UniversityNow.

“Patten University courses will transfer to most community colleges, state universities and private universities. However, we always advise students to double check with registrars to confirm credit transferability prior to registering for classes.”

From the community colleges’ point of view, an affordable online option could clear the logjams. But, despite UniversityNow’s claim to be helping public colleges, not replacing them, the offer has to make community colleges nervous. If Patten can teach general-ed online for the same cost — and without tax subsidies — why should state policymakers put more money into community colleges?

Dan Rather Reports will air a special tonight on “The Future of Higher Learning” on Access TV. It quotes UniversityNow CEO Gene Wade: “Let’s make a school that people can afford to pay out of the pocket they have today, not the one they may have in the future. You can afford to pay this right now.”