Creates a faculty-led, quality-first framework allowing online course providers to have strategically selected courses approved and placed in a state-level clearinghouse through which students may access the courses and receive credit at the UC, CSU, and California Community Colleges
This bill seeks to remedy the very significant lack of capacity in California public higher education that is reflected in the enormous number of applicants unable ot gain entrance into the systems, large wait-lists for seats in important classes, and the delayed times-to-graduation.
The 50 most oversubscribed lower division undergraduate courses that are deemed necessary for program completion, fulfilling transfer requirements, or meeting general education requirements will be made available online through this framework. Quality control in the courses will be maintained by The California Open Education Resources Council, which has three faculty representatives nominated by their respective faculty senates from each of the UC, CSU and CCC systems. Additional characteristics that Steinberg wants to be part of the platform are described in the Amendments and in an article in IHE. Courses could be provided by any outside vendor, including those from the for-profit sector.
All institutions in the three state higher education systems would be required by this law to accept credits earned through this platform. This, of course, puts this approach in the line-of-fire for most of the faculty groups in the systems. In the past, they generally have been able to forestall any non-legislated efforts of this type (see my earlier post But what about the students?). Protection of the status quo has been more important than finding a way to educate the many thousands of students who have been kept out of the systems because of capacity constraints. The recent joint venture of San Jose State and Udacity to offer a few online courses of this type for credit shows that there now is some flexible thinking within the systems, however, so we can hope for more student-focused results this time around.
Bravo, Steinberg, for going outside of the box to look for solutions to a very big problem for the future of California! Just be prepared to fight!
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools has recently published New Criteria for Accreditation and Core Components that contains a new addition that has caused some discussion:
1.D. The institution’s mission demonstrates commitment to the public good.
1. Actions and decisions reflect an understanding that in its educational role the institution serves the public, not solely the institution, and thus entails a public obligation.
2. The institution’s educational responsibilities take primacy over other purposes, such as generating financial returns for investors, contributing to a related or parent organization, or supporting external interests.
Sylvia Manning, President of the HLC is quoted in IHE as saying this new criterion appeared because, “We felt it was important to make a statement -- that education is a public good."
Few would argue about the centrality of education to the future health of the United States, and that accredited institutions should be providing the kind of education that will contribute to that future health. Thus, the discussion around this new section focuses on part 1.D.2. and the clause "generating financial returns for investors", which seems to point at for-profit higher education.
My personal concern about this statement is caused not by the the desirability of having accredited institutions provide education that will provide for the overall good of the public, but by the implication that once again, accreditation is focusing on inputs rather than outputs. Focusing on inputs effectively supports the status quo in higher education, which I think is in trouble on both quality and financial fronts. Focusing on outputs lets us demand desirable outputs without killing innovation by overspecifying the tools that can be used.
Whether or not profit (or religion, or political leaning, etc.) is the highest priority to the educational institution should not matter if we demand that the outputs meet certain standards. Surely, a for-profit that says, " yes we are focused on maximizing profits, but we are going to use the best and most effective pedagogies to educate students in subjects of importance to the community and the nation, and we are going to minimize administrative and capital costs using superior management skills" deserves to receive unbiased consideration for accreditation based on its actual outcomes.
Seems to me that HLC missed a great opportunity by focusing what could be a useful new accreditation standard on details of input rather than quality of output. This sounds like something that Obama was speaking against in his educational platform. We will have to wait and see how HLC implements this standard.