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CCSF leaders skeptical of governor’s proposed ‘online only’ college

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CCSF officials say funds designated for a proposed statewide online community college program could be better used for established online course programs. (Examiner file photo)

City College of San Francisco faculty and leaders fear that a state proposal to create an “online only” college could negatively impact the college’s own online program.

“There is a basic question of how our current online distance learning will match up with having a whole separate university,” said City College Trustee Thea Selby. “That is baffling to all of us right now.”

Gov. Jerry Brown instructed California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley last year to draft plans for an online college, with the goal of tapping into a population of some 2.5 million Californians who are underserved by traditional community colleges.

Following several revisions, the proposal will head before a subcommittee of the State Assembly today. If approved, the full budget committees of both the Assembly and Senate will take it up next.

Brown has proposed spending $120 million in the next fiscal year and an additional $20 million over the next seven years to create the college, which would enroll students as soon as the 2019-2020 school year.

But a number of community colleges that already provide online and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as CCSF, say that money could be better spent bolstering current offerings.

“The governor has identified a critical need in workforce training that we at CCSF have resources to address. We’re ready to step up and target money to additional online Career and Technical Education,” said CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton. “In fact, we’re ready to submit a proposal if funds become available to expand our online CTE presence.”

Hamilton said that 4,911 online students were registered at City College this spring semester.

While CCSF Board of Trustees Vice President Alex Randolph acknowledged that not every community college is on track in terms of offering “all of the [CTE] classes that the governor and state would like to see,” City College has the “ability to compete, and it would be great for us to have access to those funds.”

Tim Killikelly, president of CCSF’s faculty union, AFT 2121, said the online college would directly compete with an existing statewide Online Education Initiative.

Matthew Hardy, spokesperson for the California Federation of Teachers, said the union would also like to see further investment in the existing initiative that “can help strengthen and improve it, including finding new and innovative ways to teach online courses.”

CCSF engineering professor Wynd Kaufmyn said she already teaches a majority of her courses online, but hosts office hours to meet with her online students. She said a face-to–face component was essential in grasping “technical, abstract concepts” and “humanizes” students.

“I don’t know why a student would rather take an online course at a fully online college rather than at a local college,” she said. “I’m not sure what problem they are trying to solve.”

At a press conference about the California Comunity Colleges budget with Oakley earlier this month, Chris Ferguson of the state Department of Finance said that “having online access could provide [underserved students] with a flexible program that meets their needs for work and the ability to improve their economic mobility.”

With a focus on expedited job certifications, the hope is that the online college will capture young adults aged 25 to 34 who cannot “access traditional higher education, or afford a private online college.” According to the proposal, nearly half of that population is Latino.

Medical coding and Information Technology pathways are proposed to have “certified job market value” to help place students into jobs in those fields.

Oakley said labor market data suggest that “there is tremendous demand for network and user support positions.”

The proposed college, he said, can help “meet labor demand in the Information Technology area and assist with industry-led efforts to improve diversity in this field.”

Selby commended the state’s effort “connect the workforce to jobs,” but noted that “contact” is crucial for a population that may not be otherwise connected to postsecondary education or non-native English speakers.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office has also questioned whether the intended student target group — which includes students who may not have graduated high school— is suited for the online approach, adding that this concern could be addressed with investments in counseling and supportive services, including online tutors.

“We know that people who struggle through high school struggle more in online courses than they do in face-to-face courses,” Selby said. “There does not seem to be an understanding of the additional supports that might be necessary for people who never even thought to go beyond high school to attempt college level education.”

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