UC Regents consider plans to expand online courses

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On Wednesday, the second of this week’s UC Board of Regents meetings at the UCSF Mission Bay campus focused on the systemwide expansion of online education and its implications for the University of California.

Members of the board’s Committee on Educational Policy weighed the different benefits an expanded program of online courses could provide the university. As a cost-cutting measure, an online curriculum could dramatically reduce the cost of teaching per student, making a UC education much more affordable.

“The costs of an undergraduate education would be reduced for students and their families, and the greater throughput would allow UC to educate more undergraduates over a given time period,” according to the meeting’s agenda issued by the UC Office of the President. “It is also possible that online courses can decrease, or slow increases in, the university’s instructional costs, while sustaining UC’s high curricular standards.”

An expanded online catalog can also fill and improve upon the niche currently occupied by community colleges under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, said UC President Mark Yudof at the meeting.

“It should be possible for students to take one or two years’ worth of high-quality general education courses and then transfer to a UC campus,” Yudof said.

But according to UC Provost Aimee Dorr, current online offerings are mostly incompatible with the different requirements of each individual UC campus. The transfer process is difficult under the current model, where each campus produces and gives credit for its own selection of online courses.

The board discussed UC Online, a systemwide program launched in January of last year that offers online courses for credit accepted at all UC campuses. In the last year, about 1,700 UC students were enrolled in its 13 courses, which each cost about the same as a UC summer course.

The program, however, may not be operating as planned. Last year, only one non-UC student enrolled in a UC Online course, a problem that must be solved if the program can work as a gateway to other campuses.

The meeting comes less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown announced his proposed 2013-14 budget, which allocates $10 million to the university for developing online and technology-based courses. Brown’s budget recommended the UC system be more responsible with its spending and continue to eliminate inefficiencies.

The expansion of online classes in the university might be a move in the wrong direction, said Student Regent Jonathan Stein, noting that the UC leadership has not paid adequate attention to student input.

“We’ve talked extensively about how students learn today and that students are more native to the Internet,” Stein said. “No one has asked students if they’re interested in this.”

Contact Jacob Brown at [email protected].