Editorial: California does not need an online community college

Alongside the 2018-2019 state budget Gov. Jerry Brown dropped a bombshell many of us knew was coming. The $120 million asked to be set aside from state education funds for a new community college district created a new 115th community college in the State of California. This college however, is to be 100% online.

According to the online community college proposal from Gov. Brown, the purpose of this online college would be to target the 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25-34 that are currently ‘stranded’ academically because of their inability to access educational opportunities. “The fully online college will enable them to obtain the sub-associate degree certificates they need to advance their careers and improve their economic future.” The ethnic target demographic according to the statistics presented is predominantly Latinx as well as Caucasian, with Asian and African-Americans making up the remainder of the statistically visible minorities.

On first glance, the purpose of this new online community college seems reasonable. As one visits the official website for the proposal you are greeted with a video of a young woman who describes how her busy schedule and responsibilities make it difficult to attend a regular community college. To her this new online community college sounds like a godsend allowing her to continue her education in a format she can comfortably complete without the hassle of leaving her home or responsibilities. However, things are never as they really seem.

The Los Angeles Community College District offers online classes, much like most districts in the state. In fact, LACCD already has something similar. If you enroll in a college such as Los Angeles Harbor College and you decide to take an online class, you have access to online classes in the entire district. LACCD has this structure for taking online classes at any one of its institutions without ever setting foot on their actual campus. A positive from this type of system is that if you were to take online courses at different colleges, the respective college receives the respective amount of money at no extra cost or hassle to you the student.

The truth is, there is already an existing online component in most if not all community college districts in the state. If a new community college district is developed specifically for an online community college that is available to every resident in the State of California, student enrollment in every district will be impacted. In a time when many colleges in the state run a deficit, creating an online community college whose revenue will not go back to the student’s physical community is a recipe for disaster. A student taking classes at this new college who is located in Los Angeles will effectively be giving money to this new district instead of their home district, depriving them of funds they need to improve.

So what is going to be done about this funding conundrum? Well, nothing as the proposal ignores the fact it exists. Under the proposal’s website and FAQ, “the college is not expected to compete with other community colleges because it will be providing additional access for students not currently being served in higher education.” While this answer sounds reasonable considering who this college is targeting, this college will be open to whoever wants to attend it and that includes students who might be attending other colleges. Considering the proposal ignores this issue might exist, what does it have to say about potentially planning to backfill districts with any potential money they might lose? To that the FAQ answers, “No. The online college will not impact student enrollment from other colleges.”

So where will the funding for this pet project come from? It will come from Proposition 98. Prop 98 funds are funds destined for K-14 schools, that means, public elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and community colleges. That ignores the fact that the K-14 system in California, as well as the entire country, lacks proper funding to afford teachers with enough funds for supplies and other expenses. It is likely to assume that by adding a 115th community college, building its infrastructure alongside a new district as well as hiring people to build and maintain it, we’re going to be depriving the K-14 system of even more needed funds. Speaking of hiring people to build and maintain this project, who will? The money, board of directors, development of education curriculum, and control of this new district and will be under the governor of California.

Why not spend this money building the already existing online infrastructure available at most colleges? Why spend $120 million on building something new if even when you skim it’s details, it already sounds like a bad idea being sold through wishful thinking?

 

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