California Bill Seeks Campus Credit for Online Study

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Legislation was introduced in the California Senate on Wednesday that could reshape higher education by requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus.

If it passes, as seems likely, it would be the first time that state legislators have instructed public universities to grant credit for courses that were not their own — including those taught by a private vendor, not by a college or university.

“We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” said Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the Senate, who will introduce the bill. “That’s the motivation for this.”

Despite doubts about the measure from some faculty members, signs point to the proposal’s passage after refinements to the legislative language, which is currently more outline than details. Democrats control the Legislature, and Gov. Jerry Brown has been a strong proponent of online education as a means to reduce college costs.

In part because of budget cuts, hundreds of thousands of students in California’s three public higher-education systems are shut out of the gateway courses they must pass to fulfill their general education requirements or proceed with their major. Many are forced to spend extra semesters, or years, to get degrees.

Under the legislation, some of the eligible courses would likely be free “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, like those offered by providers like Coursera, Udacity and edX; others might come from companies like Straighterline, which offers low-price online courses, or Pearson, the educational publishing and testing company.

“This would be a big change, acknowledging that colleges aren’t the only ones who can offer college courses,” said Burck Smith, the founder of Straighterline. “It means rethinking what a college is.”

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