Governor Jerry Brown proposed a new community college that would be online, competency-based, offer sub-associate credentials, and focused on serving working learners. The idea was included in his budget request that he delivered to the California State Assembly yesterday.
From the website for the initiative describing the problem being solved and the proposed solution:
Economic insecurity is expected to increase over the next decade. By 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require a college credential, according to estimates by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce…Millions of Californians would benefit from sub-associate degree credentials or short bursts of additional training to move ahead in today’s economy. However, traditional higher education is not accessible for these working learners.
The California Community Colleges is responding with an online community college to provide skills and credentials working learners need to improve their social and economic mobility and move our state forward. This new, competency-based online college will be unlike any other public online education platform and will focus predominately on sub-associate degree credentials of value tailored to the needs of these working learners.
Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Digital Futures for the California Community College System told me that: “The R&D unit being established as part of this venture will build our collective use of learning science, data science, and behavioral science in shaping educational strategies that meet adults where they are.”
How Was the Proposal Developed?
Governor Brown has a recent history of challenging the three higher education systems in his state to serve more students and to be more innovative. Resulting investments have led to California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative and efforts of the California State University to support online learners.
Brown wanted more. Unlike a few other examples that I can think of in which politicians floated half-baked ideas, this idea was researched. A Working Group represented key constituents within the colleges, the system, and the state’s Departments of Labor and Finance. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) “worked with the system stakeholders and online thought leaders to develop ‘Report on Options for an Online, Statewide Community College’ that was delivered to the governor.”
The Working Group presented the Governor with options including an institution that would assume the duties on its own or a partnership of institutions that would share the duties. The Governor favored creating a new institution.
Additional Considerations for Accreditation, Organization, and Learning
The Online Community College Proposal states that the institution will:
- Seek “accreditation and meet requirements for students to become eligible for federal financial aid and state financial aid.”
- Not compete with existing colleges because it is focusing on students who “are not currently accessing higher education” and “students who are unable to access or obtain an education in a traditional setting.”
- Hire its own faculty and will transition to collective bargaining.
- Avoid duplicating existing programs by leveraging existing online education efforts (such as the Online Education Initiative mentioned previously) already available within the system.
Sally Johnstone, President of NCHEMS told me that: “The design of the new statewide community college is based on everything we know and could find about the needs of working Californians who will require new skills and knowledge to fulfill evolving workforce demands. This college will be able to incorporate the latest information from the field of learning science to offer these students engaging and convenient ways to acquire relevant knowledge for life-long careers.”
Not Surprisingly, Questions Remain
As with any new venture, there are more questions than facts. There are many details to work out.
For example, via Twitter Sean Gallagher (Founder and Executive Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, and Executive Professor of Educational Policy) asked me “And why can’t the existing CA community colleges meet the need? I’m assuming the challenge is governance, financial model, faculty buy-in?”
I think he hit on some real challenges that might be more easily overcome with a new entity. In my opinion additional factors may be capacity (the existing colleges have had trouble keeping apace with the growing population) and the laser-focus on workforce development (which has become a favorite issue with state legislators everywhere).
Additionally, I think it is an issue about an institution’s ability to focus. I worry when a college adds a major new effort that may be the third…or eighth…or sixteenth most important item in their mission. There are other states that have adult and/or online focused institutions and they have been stellar in serving that goal. Meanwhile, I’ve worked on projects that were short-term priorities for more traditional institutions and those efforts have gone by the wayside. An example is Kentucky’s Commonwealth College, which I believe has been whittled down to nothing.
It will be fascinating to watch the press, the politics, and the progress of this idea. More to come!
What do you think? Share your comments below.