National Beat Reporter
Public higher education may be accessible online one day, especially if a California politician can secure an initiative on the 2018 statewide ballot.
The University of California Online, a proposed online university conceived by Boyd Roberts, envisions an internet learning institution that would be “fully accredited.” Roberts is a real-estate broker from Laguna Beach and a candidate for California’s 48th congressional district seat.
UC Online would be tuition-based and free in different parts. Roberts crafted the proposal with an intent to “establish the right of the public to access publicly owned higher education,” he told LA Weekly in August.
The proposal would allow the public to access course content from the UC, Cal State University (CSU), and California community college curricula. It would break down to a “two-tiered system,” Roberts told LA Weekly, as the course content would be free to audit (access the education without getting a grade or course credit). However, an individual seeking a degree would have to enroll and pay tuition.
Currently, the UC offers online courses for students not enrolled in the UC — also known as “UC Online” — and provides online courses to UC students through cross-campus enrollment. The proposed system differs from the current one because the public at large would be able to access UC, CSU, and community college courses with no upfront fees.
All applicants would be granted admission to UC Online, and the institution would exist independently of the UC system, though Roberts told the Los Angeles Times that the material would match the UC’s own curricula. Tuition revenue would subsidize the electronic textbook fees, along with the startup costs of building an online program.
A shift online would fit a growing trend — students enjoy engaging with academic work online. Nearly 530,000 California community college students — just under 20 percent of all students taking credit courses — took at least one course on the internet during the 2011-12 school year, revealed polling data recorded by the Public Policy Institute of California.
“I think it’s a cool idea,” said Jonathan Chen, a second year computer science major. He said he supports online courses over traditional ones, calling the former “more convenient.”
But Chen also questioned how well an online education could keep students honest.
“Some online classes make it way too easy to cheat,” he said. “You can just look things up online.”
Both Chen and Navnoor Singh, an undeclared second year, spoke of their reservations toward a lack of one-on-one interaction between instructors and students with an online course structure.
“You can’t really replicate a classroom experience online,” said Singh. “You don’t get to know the professor as well as you would in person, and some things just can’t be taught online.”
Singh noted that he would need to look into who teaches the courses, as well as how they’re taught, to be sure that he is getting a “quality education.” Of course, there’s the money factor.
“I would expect tuition to be at a lower price than a traditional university,” Singh said.