Tuesday, May 28, 2013

State and Local Online Initiatives Converge


There is new California Senate budget language for online education funding for the UC system:  “Of the funds appropriated in Schedule (1), $10,000,000 is provided to increase the number of courses available to undergraduate students enrolled at the University of California (UC) through the use of technology, specifically those courses that have the highest demand, fill quickly, and are prerequisites for many different degrees. Priority will be given to developing courses that can serve greater numbers of students while providing equal or better learning experiences. The university shall ensure that the courses selected for this purpose are articulated across all UC campuses offering undergraduate degree programs and shall additionally ensure that students enrolling and successfully completing these courses are granted degree applicable cross-campus transfer credit. The university will shall use these funds to enable make these courses to be available to all university undergraduate students systemwide, regardless of the campus where they are enrolled. The university should shall charge UC-matriculated students the same tuition for these courses that it charges them for regular academic year state-subsidized courses. Prior to the expenditures of these funds, the University shall submit a detailed expenditure plan for approval by the Department of Finance. The Director of Finance shall provide notification in writing of any approval granted under this section, not less than 30 days prior to the effective date of that approval, to the chairperson of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, or not later than whatever lesser amount of time prior to that effective date the Chairperson of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, or his or her designee, may in each instance determine. By March 1, 2014, the University shall submit a report detailing the use of these funds and any outcomes that may be attributed to their use. The report shall include the university’s proposal for use of these funds in 2014-15.”

This new language aligns with UC’s new online Initiative (ILTI), except it requires the new online courses to be applicable for degree transfer credit at all UC campuses.  While the UC proposal only requires new courses to be transferable at two campuses, the state wants these classes to be system-wide.  Since ILTI is reliant on the governor’s funding, it appears that the initial call for proposals will have to be rethought, and this brings up the very difficult problem of system-wide courses. One unresolved issue is whether any of these transferable courses will give major or GE credit and who will decide on this issue. 

Complicating matters is the continuing battle over SB520.  The bill is being amended again, and this time it will be a strictly voluntary incentive grant system.  In other words, similar to ILTI, it will ask faculty to develop online courses, but they need to be available for transfer credit in all three segments.  Like the governor’s proposal, SB520 could represent a backdoor elimination of shared governance, campus autonomy, and the power of individual faculty senates and departments to accept or reject outside courses.   

Standing back, we see how the governor’s budget proposal, SB520, and the UC’s own online program are converging.  While UC thinks that it can control the process and make sure that each campus has control over its curriculum, the state is pushing for a radical restructuring of the system. Moreover, since no one has figured out how revenue will be shared between the campuses and who will pay for a student on one campus to take a course on another campus, this top-down imposition of shared online courses may cause major havoc in California’s higher education segments.  

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