Cal State Turns to Online Education for Intro, Required Courses

To deal with a chronic shortage of spaces in large introductory required courses, California State University will begin offering online classes to all its students this fall. America’s largest public university system will roll out the program to all of its 23 campuses.

This will allow students from any CSU school to enroll in a course offered by any other CSU school. Initially students will be able to sign up for more than 30 courses covering mathematics, sciences, history and other disciplines.

Mike Uhlenkamp, spokesman for CSU called the program “radical.” The cross-campus online course platform is exactly the kind of thing that California Governor Jerry Brown had in mind when he began encouraging education officials around the state to invest in online education.

It was funded from $17 million in state money originally earmarked for online education, Uhlenkamp said.

Meanwhile, the University of California is spending $10 million to develop dozens more such courses, along with a cross-campus online enrollment system.

In some ways, CSU is getting in line behind other large public systems such as the University of Texas and UC, which have set up system wide courses to meet student demand. Across the country, colleges are trying to make more classes available to more students online, a phenomenon spurred by funding cuts, rising tuition and the emergence of companies offering free or low-cost courses.

Overcrowding has been plaguing the state’s public higher education system on every level. Although no official numbers are kept, according to Katy Murphy of the Oakland Tribune, at least five campuses had more applicants than spaces in every single major they offer. Even those who don’t embrace online education like San Jose State senior Eric Yam support the program as a least bad alternative to not being able to enroll in the classes at all.

Although students will have access to the entire cross-campus catalog, initially they will be limited to only one off-campus course per semester.

Notably missing from the colleges’ fall enrollment planning is a controversial online education bill introduced this spring that drew fierce faculty opposition. Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, proposed a much more sweeping change than CSU is pursuing to help students who couldn’t get into overcrowded classes. SB 520 would have created a single pool of online classes acceptable for credit at any community college or public university in California — including some created by unaccredited online education providers.

Announced with fanfare this spring, Steinberg’s legislation has been put on hold until next year.

“This bill has prompted a real debate, and now we have the segments coming out with their plans,” said Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Steinberg.