California’s plan for an online community college

California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to launch the state’s first fully online public community college that would provide short-term programs to help 2.5 million young adults without college credentials attain skills for available jobs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare and child development.

In his 2018-19 budget plan released Wednesday, Brown proposed an increase of $570 million (about 4 percent) for community colleges — including $120 million for the online college which would open by fall 2019. It also includes $46 million to make the first year of community college free for first-time, full-time students.

In his budget plan, the governor said that in addition to the 2.5 million young Californians who have only a high school diploma or some college but no degree — nearly half of whom are Hispanic and nearly half are women — there are another 8.7 million residents ages 35 to 65 with no college credentials. They are all at risk during economic downturns and to downsizing due to workforce automation.

Many of these adults cannot attend traditional community colleges because of various barriers such as work schedules, transportation or child care need.

“Unless provided with flexible learning options that meet working students where they are, this population is likely to remain stranded in their current economic situation,” according to a budget summary.

The new college will not affect traditional community colleges’ enrollment because its enrollment base will be working adults who are not currently accessing higher education, according to the plan.

Supports to succeed

A critical part of the online college’s efforts will be to ensure that working students have support to succeed in their programs.

“Technology-enabled student supports will be shared and scaled at campuses across the system to boost capacity and improve student outcomes,” the report said. “The online college’s initial focus will be collating and developing quality content and programs that provide vocational training, career advancement opportunities, and credentialing for careers in child development, the service sector, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and in-home supportive services, among other areas.”

The plan noted that a growing number of Californians are already tapping online higher education programs — often at for-profit or non-accredited institutions or at out-of-state colleges, which are typically more expensive than California community colleges. The competency-based online college will be a better, less-costly option, it noted.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who Brown asked last year to study the concept on an online community college, said that he supports the plan, as does Board of Governors President Cecilia V. Estolano and a coalition of organized labor, employer groups, education leaders as well as public policy and social justice organizations.

“It’s our responsibility to bring the campus to them (adults), and we can do that through a fully online college,” Oakley said in a statement.

Estolano noted that the governor’s proposal also aligns with the California Community Colleges’ recently adopted Vision for Success and its goal of better serving working adults looking for nontraditional approaches to boosting their job skills.

“While California’s 114 community colleges offer the most economical options for higher education and career training in the country, many working adults are looking for more online opportunities that fit into their schedule,” she said.

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