California May Require Colleges to Give Credit for Outside, Online Courses

Students who have to wait a semester or more to get into courses they need at California’s crowded public colleges may get some relief under proposed legislation that would require all of the state’s public colleges and universities to grant credit for faculty-approved online courses, The New York Times reports.

Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is president pro tem of the Senate, is expected to introduce the bill on Wednesday. The motivation for it, he told the Times, is so that the state can 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.”

Under the bill, a nine-member faculty council that was created last year as part of a project to provide free or low-cost digital textbooks would determine which 50 introductory courses were most oversubscribed and which online versions of those courses should be eligible for credit.

Eligible classes might include online courses offered by other colleges and universities in the California higher-education systems; massive open online courses offered by providers like Coursera, Udacity, or edX; or courses offered by companies like Straighterline or Pearson. A student could get credit for a third-party course only if the class were full at the student’s home institution, and if that institution did not offer it online.

Despite faculty involvement in approving the courses, the idea is likely to draw objections from professors. Lillian Taiz, president of the association that represents faculty members at California State University, told the Times that she thought it was too soon to conclude that online classes from third-party providers were a good substitute for courses at state institutions.

“There’s a sort of mania for massive online courses right now,” she said, “but there’s no good evidence that they work for all students.” She also criticized the Legislature, saying it had imposed budget cuts that “have sucked public higher education dry of resources” and was now proposing to “give away the job of educating our students.”

University leaders, however, were more supportive. Mark Yudof, president of the University of California, said he was “flat-out optimistic” about the idea of granting credit for online courses “as long as our faculty has the chance to massage it appropriately.” Timothy P. White, chancellor of California State University, said, “We have to find a way to do better at meeting the growing demand” for higher education.

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