Alternative Education and Cal State: Student Tug-of-War

Admittedly, I am not too well-versed in my own state’s higher education policy nor its issues, but the recent news about Cal State’s “beta” test to roll out online education as an alternative to the swollen, funding-deficient bellies of its current classrooms piqued my interest. Given that Cal State is the largest university system in the US, it behooves me to see what all the fuss is about.

According to the news, Cal Sate is exploring an online version of itself, called Cal State Online, which allows students to enroll in existing and to-be-created online courses that will eventually serve over 250,000 students in the coming decades.

Some faculty – especially unionized ones – are up in arms about the platform, predicting it will “harm” its current bricks-and-mortar institutions and the students they serve, by undercutting funding and undermining its traditional teaching methods. Not surprised, faculty! But how about the harm imposed on all the students you don’t serve, whom can ultimately benefit from having a college education when they otherwise would have nothing?

The nutshell here is that Cal State is having a capacity problem, and the online learning solution could fix that problem – and educate hundreds of thousands of students that would otherwise be nonconsumers – yet, the underlying issue is the perceivable, widening gap between the “haves and the have-nots” in academe. Rich? Go to your campus! Poor? Go to your computer!

And what about the transfer students? Over 1/3 of all students enrolled in higher education institutions have transferred (and many from a four to a two-year institution, counterintuitive to what most would assume) The majority of students are transferring due to economic reasons, so an online school would be a great way to get them on track with a standardized curriculum. Preparing them for the change while ensuring quality programs is what Cal State seems to have in mind – they’re not outsourcing the content to for-profits or other providers, which could be problematic – so let’s say for today’s match, I’m for Team Cal State Online.

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