Jul 28, 2014
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Bravo for Gov. Brown: Online Education Can Profit Our Public Colleges

Colleen O'Connor: “If for-profit schools can charge large sums for completion of online advanced degrees—and make a profit—why can’t the UC or state colleges or even community colleges of California do the same?”

Bravo for Gov. Brown: Online Education Can Profit Our Public Colleges

Bravo to the governor.

No, not for the bullet train. Not for the tax increases. And not for the pushback on increasing student fees. 

Something much bigger than that earns him praise.

Jerry Brown gets it. On education. Specifically, online education.

He spoke forcefully to the UC Regents recently, telling them they needed “heroic” changes to save the university system. More classes for less money. Specifically, he cited a move to online education.

Time for the state’s higher education system to marry its assets to its liabilities. Meaning, educate more for less, using modern tools, not just the Socratic methods of the ancients. Use California’s higher education system to reach greater numbers of willing learners.

Simply put, if for-profit schools can charge large sums for completion of online advanced degrees such as B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.—and make a profit—why can’t the UC or state colleges or even community colleges of California do the same? Charge a little more than in-class lessons, and use the added revenue stream to add more skilled students (currently capped) to the workforce.

Do computer programmers really need to sit in a classroom for several semesters to master their skills? Do inventors of apps really need an instructor to drone on about what iPad or Facebook users need? Do high school dropouts really need hand-holding to complete their GED coursework?

No. They need the basics, an idea, hard work and someone online to help.

It is called the democratization of education. Take the classroom to the students—wherever they are and provide whatever knowledge they need to succeed. Need programmers? Offer the course. Single parents can complete it online, at home, watching their children do their homework.

Need course credits to advance up the salary scale or update professional certificates? Do it on your own schedule. Cheaper. Faster. And with some of the best educated professors in the country.

Education needs updating, reform and a will to change. What is California waiting for? 

Harvard, M.I.T., Stanford and other flagship universities are already offering online courses for free—for anyone in the world. Those beacons of learning are trying to “democratize knowledge”—one of the great promises of the Internet Age.

Why can’t California offer its students online courses that are competitive with the for-profit schools, and consistent with the new skills sets of a post-industrial age?

And why can’t California’s legislators follow the lead of Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Get to the future.

My Christmas wish from Gov. Jerry Brown (who gets it) is to make online learning this year’s mandated Christmas gift to all California students, their families, friends (and prisoners, too)—not just something that the Grinch for-profits steal from the state.

Take the California universities, colleges and community colleges out of their comfort zone and into the homes of all Californians. What a Christmas gift that would be!

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