California is a state of higher education contrasts. Faced with severe budget cuts, the state’s community colleges curtailed course offerings and closed their doors to new students. In 2009-10 alone, 140,000 first-time students were kept out; between 2008 and 2012, campuses reduced course offerings by 24 percent. Observers estimate that hundreds of thousands of students have been stuck on waitlists for introductory courses that they must pass to make progress.
Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, computer scientists and entrepreneurs have enrolled millions of students in free, online college courses in the space of just over a year. The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on offer at Coursera, Udacity, and other firms are turning what was once scarce—college coursework—into something that is abundant.
As the New York Times reported yesterday, a proposal in the California state Senate will blend these two worlds. With Governor Jerry Brown’s support, Democrat (and president pro tem) Darrell Steinberg introduced a new bill that will call on community colleges to enable students who cannot get a seat in chronically overenrolled introductory courses to get those credits via an equivalent online course from approved provider. In other words, Steinberg’s bill would empower students to fulfill their degree requirements in a timely manner even if their own university can’t fit them in the lecture hall that semester. Steinberg said, “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.” <Read more.>