California Moves Forward with Online Higher Ed Expansion

As part of the recent budget proposal introduced by California Governor Jerry Brown, the University of California system will get $10 million earmarked for expansion of online education offerings. The only hitch appears to be the lack of a firm plan on how that expansion will actually be implemented.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that Brown has repeatedly stressed the importance of online education not only as a tool to bring down the costs of higher ed, but also to expand its reach. He reiterated this point while speaking at the UC Regents meeting earlier this week, adding that the current educational paradigm couldn't be sustained much longer without pushing more of the cost onto the students in the form of tuition hikes.

The focus on savings, however, doesn't mean that Brown believes that educational quality has lower priority. On the contrary, as he said to a reporter after the conclusion of the meeting, this kind of learning could actually result in better academic outcomes for students.

Some leaders have floated the idea of encouraging undergraduates to take 10 percent of their courses online, particularly for lower-division courses. Others have suggested the courses be made available to students who wish to transfer into the system. UC Berkeley's law school dean, Christopher Edley, proposed an entirely new charter campus devoted to online education, with faculty at the heart of it.

In short, the future of online education for UC could be anything. Maybe.

That isn't to say that online education currently has no place on UC campuses. Currently public universities are offering not only hundreds of online courses, but even online-only degree programs. Yet, they remain strictly campus-specific, with students in one university or college unable to take courses offered elsewhere. The recently announced UC Online Education Initiative is aiming to centralize online education efforts in the UC system and could achieve significant savings by eliminating duplicate courses offered by different schools.

It appears that Brown's appeal is working, as only a few days after the meeting, UC officials announced that they will be kicking off an effort aimed at expanding access to online education for their students.

If successful, the effort could result in a new class of online students treated like those at community colleges, with the opportunity to transfer their credits to UC campuses and enroll.

"The idea would be to create another entry point to the University of California," UC President Mark Yudof said.

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