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University of California Looks to Expand Online Education

May 12, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

In another attempt to address budget shortfalls due to a significant decrease in state funding for higher education in the state, the University of California system has proposed increasing their online offerings to get more students enrolled, thus bringing more revenue into the school.

The proposed pilot project would not only offer students more online class choices, but offer students a path toward complete online degrees. If the plan moves forward, administrators would start with offering the schools’ core, general education classes online, before moving on to classes further on in students’ fields of study. Those core classes are typically high enrollment anyway, composed predominantly of freshmen. Freshman Composition 1-2, for example, has an average annual enrollment of 31,585, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The real accomplishment, administrators say, would be leading students through a complete sequence of online courses in any major offered at the college.

Although it may take a while for the project to get off the ground—administrators will be putting out requests for proposals in the fall, with the earliest start date for the program suggested for 2011—it already has its supporters. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those supporters feel the plan will not only make the school system a significant amount of money, something it desperately needs, but it would improve the school system’s reputation as an innovative force. More online classes would also give professors interested in teaching them more time for research, as they will be working remotely, thereby further solidifying the school system's role as a research institution.

The proposal also has its critics. Some worry that online education won’t meet the academic standards the schools’ in-class programs currently set, and that the school system’s reputation will actually be hurt by the move if freshmen fail to excel in the virtual classroom. According to The Chronicle, although online classes are commonplace, elite public universities haven’t exactly latched onto the idea of online degrees. Even those schools that offer their complete course materials online (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, among many other examples), have been hesitant to express any interest in the online degree market.

The state system’s campuses currently enroll more than 25,000 students online each year as part of their graduate and extension programs, according to The Chronicle. This proposal would greatly expand the schools’ online courses to undergraduates, who have typically not been able to take for-credit classes online. (The University of California at Berkeley has been the exception, offering eight online summer classes to undergraduates.) What do you think? Would you skip the campus experience for a virtual one?


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