Thursday, July 23, 2009

University of California Considers an 11th, Electronic Campus

The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 22, 2009, reports in a story by Marc Beja, that the dean of the U.C., Berkeley, Law School, Christopher Edley, Jr., recommends opening a new, electronic campus for the University of California. Due to severe budget cuts, the system may not be able to enroll as many students as before. Apparently, system president Mark Yudof (another former law dean!) has listened with great interest to the proposal. Here are the main points from the interview that Dean Edley gave to the Chronicle, but it's worth reading the article in full, which (alas) requires a password and subscription.

1. Racial justice issues: apparently the online University of Phoenix has been enrolling disproportionate numbers of minority, transfer-ready community college students. Dean Edley hypothesizes that issues of convenience, the ability to take part-time classes, save money on commuting and campus housing, continue working part-time or full-time jobs all contribute to student interest in online education, and these issues may disproportionately affect poor and minority students.

2. Dean Edley expressed confidence that the University would be able to raise the large up-front costs required to start-up an online university from private sources and do it well.

3. Faculty reaction has been mixed, but only a few people have out-right rejected the idea. The details will be important. Many people on his campus think that a Master's program may be the right way to explore an online program, but Edley disagrees. He would like to see both undergraduate and graduate programs offered at the online campus, from the beginning.

4. To ensure that the quality of the online campus meets the level of the other University of California campuses, Edley proposes
A. using the best full time U.C. faculty and excellent production values;
B. Each course must have the same content assessment and grading as regular campuses;
C. Tuition must support the online campus fully, so that it does not draw money away from the existing campuses. In fact, Edley proposes that the tuition be equal to the other campuses' tuition, to signal equal quality.

5. Edley thinks students would derive enough savings and other benefits from the online campus that it would still be a draw. They would save money from not living on or near a campus or commuting to school. He did not mention convenience here, or the ability to maintain part time work, but it was mentioned earlier. He does talk about how adding online courses could relieve the pressure on gateway courses that are currently over-enrolled. He does not actually discuss anything about how many extra faculty the university would be adding in order to start up this online campus.... if you simply add online courses without adding faculty, that is NOT going to relieve any pressure.

6. The interviewer asked if the online campus would be restricted to California students. Edley did not actually answer this, but commented that he thought it might be of great interest to students across the United States and the world, who might see it as a better alternative to what was available to them locally.

7. The interviewer asked whether new faculty would be hired, or if existing faculty would be used to staff the new online campus. Edley here says he thinks that existing faculty can do it: "core tenure track UC faculty. ... the best faculty would teach regular courses and some cybercourses would be included in their course mix." He does talk about having an instructor of record supplemented by graduate students for one-on-one contact and grading purposes. But this seems like an insane way to try to stretch your existing faculty, if you really consider adding an entire new campus' worth of undergraduate and graduate courses! Even spread among 10 campuses of faculty that's a lot of extra teaching load to add. Unless you intend to record classes?

They go on to ask if Edley has ever taught an online course, which he has not, but expresses interest in doing. He also expresses great impatience to get this campus up and going, for fiscal reasons if nothing else. This is a fascinating idea and an interesting experiment. But I have to say I am very glad it is not happening in my state. Good luck, California! I suspect that they might be very wise to talk to the various people who have successful online operations, like University of Phoenix (who might not be willing to talk to them) or the online law school Concord (who might).


monirahmed said...

This is a wonderful idea and a timely one. I am sure it will be a great program.

Marie S. Newman said...

What I worry about is whether the University of California system truly has the financial resources to launch a new venture at this point in time. Online learning has tremendous potential, but is not cheap to implement.