California State System Revamps Distance Education Portal

Less than two years after launching its distance education portal, the California State University System has replaced it.

Cal State Online, partnered with Pearson's eCollege, was founded in 2012 in an effort to handle a higher pool of applicants. The universities already offered online courses, but had no system in place for distance learning. Meanwhile, many other colleges around the nation had begun to offer distance learning, leaving Cal State farther behind.

Professors stated their opposition to an online learning program. Worries arose that there would be too much competition with face-to-face learning. University officials put these fears to rest by making campus participation voluntary.

Early plans for online learning involved enrolling more than 250,000 students "over the next several decades". However, almost two years later, only five of the 23 campuses are participating, writes Carl Straumsheim for Inside Higher Ed.

The university system only offers five bachelor degree programs, two master's programs and four general education courses. Each of the bachelor programs require students to enter with half of their education, or 60 credits, already completed.

By the time these degree programs were put in place, many campuses had already begun to offer online programs on their own.

Assembly Bill 46 could help to change all that. The legislation would give campus professors information about campus enrollment and student completion rates of online programs at other CSU schools.

"If we're going to talk about online education, we need to be sure the faculty have the information they need to engage the students," Pan said. "We're not asking for a whole lot. What we can't do is have an organization say, ‘Well, we don't want to share this information with you.' "

Now the campuses are moving toward a shared services model, according to a memo on June 13 to campus leaders.

"The CSU believes it can be more successful supporting campuses' fully online degree, credential and certificate programs by focusing on a shared services strategy," Laurie Weidner, assistant vice chancellor of public affairs, said in an email. "The new model will enable the campuses to grow their online programs more successfully and in a timely manner."

During the transition, Cal State Online will continue to be operational, although the system is still unclear as to what is to come next. A Commission on Online Education has been formed and will listen to what students want on each campus, presenting their findings in September.

According to Ephraim P. Smith, the system's executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, the University system "will consult with campuses to identify the next set of priorities to pursue systemwide strategies, services and contracts to support campus success."

Pearson will no longer have a role in the online system, allowing individual campuses to use whichever learning management system they see fit.

"For any business – be it nonprofit or for-profit — to succeed, it must have the three Ps: the right people, the right products and the right process," said Kenneth Hartman, a senior fellow for the consulting firm Eduventures. "In this case, they were never able to achieve the right products, the process was not — in spite of two years working on it — in place … and there was tremendous uncertainty and a lack of buy-in."

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