State senator Steinberg introduces online education legislation

Senator Darrell Steinberg

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A California state senator proposed a bill late February that would require the state’s public colleges and universities to accept faculty-approved online college courses for credit.

SB 520, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would make the 50 most oversubscribed lower-division courses in California’s higher education system available online. The bill targets college students unable to enroll due to space limitations in these impacted on-campus classes and allows them to earn an unlimited number of credits online.

“The California Master Plan for Higher Education promised open access to all, yet thousands of students are struggling to complete their degrees and going deeper in college debt because there simply aren’t enough classroom seats available in the courses they need,” Steinberg said at a press conference.

The University of California has attempted to implement online education systemwide with UC Online, a program launched last year that offers online courses for credit to UC and non-UC students alike. According to the provisions of the bill, UC Online would likely be eligible as a provider of for credit courses for the UC system.

“I strongly support efforts to use online education to ensure timely access to courses,” said UC President Mark Yudof. “We have not yet seen any language for potential legislation, and we look forward to learning more about what is being proposed.”

According to the bill, courses eligible for credit may also be offered by private, third-party providers like edX, Coursera and Udacity, which offer massive open online courses.

SB 520 is not expected to take any power over course design and structure away from faculty, Steinberg said. The 50 courses have to be approved by a nine-member panel composed of faculty members appointed by academic senates of the three state institutions.

Additionally, the bill stipulates that the publication of student success in these online courses will be made available, and regular solicitation and consideration of input from students on implementation of the platform will be heard.

Suspicions have also been raised about what the cost might be for these proposed online classes for credit, but Steinberg said that students would not have to pay more for online classes than they would learning in the classroom.

If passed, the bill would be the first in the nation to mandate the provision of credit for online courses, Steinberg said. But the rush to implement online education as a cost-saving policy has left some skeptical about the technology’s benefits on the student educational experience.

“I am opposed to online education if it is approached as a cost-savings measure to replace in class time,” said ASUC President Connor Landgraf. “Instead, I think it should be viewed as a tool to improve overall education and enhance learning.”

Contact Matt Trejo at [email protected].