California Senate Bill Urges Increased Availability of Online College Courses and Extension of the California Virtual Campus through 2017

On February 21, 2013, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Member Cristina Garcia introduced Senate Bill (“SB”) 520 to promote an online student access platform for students of California’s Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California. Proponents of the bill state SB 520 would provide for increased availability of online lower-division courses in the 50 most impacted courses for the three college systems.

Strained budgets and increased enrollment demands have impacted the availability of many of the lower-division courses college students need to complete their degree programs. SB 520 cites figures showing that in the 2012–2013 academic year, 85% of California’s community colleges reported having waitlists for their fall 2012 course offerings. Similarly, recent figures indicate that only 60 percent of UC students and 16 percent of CSU students are able to earn their bachelors degree within four years. SB 520 therefore seeks to create “The California Online Student Access Platform” to provide a statewide mechanism for online course providers to offer transferable courses for credit. (Proposed Educ. Code § 66409.3.) Under SB 520, faculty from the State’s three higher education systems (the California Open Education Resources Council) would create a pool of approved courses and would conduct a standardized review and approval process for online courses.

Under SB 520, in determining online courses to be approved, the Council would consider factors such as the availability of instructional supports, opportunities for interaction with instructors and classmates, integrity of the examination and assessment process, inclusion of content reviewed and recommended by the American Council on Education, student success data, and interestingly, the adoption of material from the California Digital Open Source Library as the primary course text or an acceptable alternative. The California Digital Open Source Library is a free digital textbook library signed into law in September 2012 to provide undergraduates with access to free online textbooks in fifty of the most common courses in the state college systems, significantly alleviating the fiscal pressure of purchasing expensive course texts for many of California’s postsecondary students.

SB 520 additionally proposes extension of the California Virtual Campus through January 1, 2017, which under current law is set to expire in 2014. The California Virtual Campus is a project funded through a grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office to support and enable distance education at all California community colleges.

While opponents of the bill—fearing a decline in scholarly credibility—have criticized the State’s efforts to increase the availability and transferability of online courses, proponents argue more online course offerings will help ease the significant financial pressures facing the State’s public colleges and improve student graduation rates.

Categories: Higher Education

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