Digital learning is expanding higher education options for California students, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Estela Garcia, a working mother from Menlo Park, attends class at her kitchen table after she puts her daughters to bed; Tim Barham, a UC Berkeley senior, takes statistics at home after a day at work; and Oakland teenager Sergio Sandoval studies a college course while in high school.
“I think this is the single most transformational thing that could occur in higher education in decades,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.
With the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, California’s universities are expanding online options. The University of California, whose campuses offer more than 2,500 online classes, may require undergraduates to take 10 percent of classes online. As soon as this summer,
San Jose State University and Udacity, a Mountain View-based company, “could open for-credit math classes to all takers, at $150 each. Some 300 high school, community college and university students are in a pilot program to test the classes.”
Galatolo wants to work with Udacity to design refresher courses to help incoming students ace placement tests, avoiding the remedial “black hole.”
Estela Garcia and a former classmate, Kelsey Harrison, said their online coursework requires self-discipline.
Still, because of the relatively small size of the class, it was easy for them to reach their College of San Mateoinstructors when they needed help. That kind of communication between students and faculty is impossible in a course with thousands of students. Those courses rely on virtual study groups and crowd-sourcing — seeking answers from the whole universe of students.
A well-developed online class might reach struggling students better than a traditional one, said Ronald Rogers, the San Jose State professor who developed Udacity’s statistics course. Rogers said when he stands in a lecture hall and asks if anyone has a question, nary a hand goes up. The new platform inserts short exercises and quizzes into the lecture, prompting instant student feedback.
“Imagine being in a class where if every minute and a half, the teacher shut up and asked if you got it,” he said.
Online courses helped Tim Barham transfer from a community college to Berkeley a year early. Now at Cal, the legal studies major is taking statistics online. Otherwise, he said, “I would have had to graduate later or cut down on work hours, which I can’t afford to do.”
Older students are looking for ways to combine credits earned in many ways to complete a degree, reports the New York Times. New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State College, a pioneer in flexible, low-cost degrees, is growing rapidly. So are Charter Oak State College in Connecticut and the private, nonprofit Excelsior College in New York. ”The idea of measuring students’ competency, not classroom hours, has become the cornerstone of newer institutions like Western Governors University,” the Times adds.
Pilar Mercedes Foy, 31, a Thomas Edison graduate whose parents did not go to college, said after she got an entry-level job at PSEG, the New Jersey energy company, she realized that she would need a degree to advance. She earned the bulk of her credits through heavily subsidized evening classes offered at work, supplemented by classes at Union County College and 12 credits from the CLEP Spanish exam.
Foy didn’t borrow a penny.
David Esterson, 45, of Whittier, Calif., started taking college classes in high school and attended the University of Washington for a year. After working for years as a photographer and starting a music business, he decided to complete his degree three years ago. He took online courses at the University of Minnesota and the University of Phoenix and at several California community colleges, before earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Thomas Edison. He’s now enrolled in two graduate programs.
High-achieving community college students in the San Diego area have been guaranteed a spot at University of California in San Diego. No more. UCSD will end the transfer guarantee for students at Palomar, MiraCosta and other community colleges, reports the North County Times.
The transfer admission guarantee, or “TAG” agreement, allows community college students with grade point averages of 3.5 or better to secure guaranteed admission to UCSD, as long as they meet certain deadlines and coursework requirements.
However, citing increased competition among transfers and a funding shortfall, university officials said they will discontinue the agreement in 2014. Community college students can still apply to transfer to the university, but won’t receive guaranteed admission through the program after that year.
Eight UC campuses currently offer transfer guarantees, though the requirements vary from a minimum GPA of 2.8 to 3.0 for UC Merced, to 3.5 for UCSD. The state’s higher education system is suffering from high demand and less state funding.
To get more brains for the buck, the University of California should encourage more students to graduate in three years and create more online classes, concludes a report from UC’s Commission on the Future, reports the Los Angeles Times. The report also urges enrolling more out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition.
The UC panel also called for removing roadblocks to timely graduation and urged campuses to review required courses “to ensure that they are not overly burdensome.”
Many faculty members oppose expanding online classes, arguing “it would lower educational quality and make the university too impersonal,” reports the Times. “A compromise was reached earlier this year with a plan to raise $6 million in private donations to launch 40 online undergraduate courses, an experiment that could be widened later.”