BOT gives Cal State Online new funds

Jared McKiernan and Daniel Serrano, Staff Writers

The Cal State University Board of Trustees passed a motion yesterday to allow Cal State Online access to general and state funds.

Cal State Online had previously been designed as a self-supporting system, where course fees would completely fund the expenses of its operation, unlike the CSU itself, where student tuition makes up only half of all revenue.

According to John Welty, president of Cal State Fullerton, high demand for online education was a factor in the decision.

“It was envisioned we would offer programs through self-support; however, we have seen interest in supporting online education grow,” he said.

CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White expressed that some of the program’s details still need to be worked out for it to function properly.

“We’re redesigning the Dreamliner while we’re flying it,” he said. “We’re going to make mistakes. All the pieces don’t fit because all the pieces don’t exist yet.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Cal State Online was “light-years ahead of the UC system” in developing a practical online education system. Yet, he too was critical of Cal State Online, warning against long-term contracts with platform providers while technology rapidly evolves. Cal State Online’s current platform provider is Pearson eCollege, which was selected last summer.

“Seven years ago, a tweet was a sound,” he said. “We don’t know where technology will be in another seven years.”

Welty acknowledged that while Cal State Online looks promising, there are years of work ahead.

“We all recognize going forward, there is a lot more experimentation that needs to go on, and there are things on the horizon that haven’t been thought of yet,” he said.

Cal State Los Angeles President James M. Rosser said a reliable, efficient online education system could be used to tackle California’s remediation problem, where more than 1.7 million college students have to take remedial math and English classes every year.

“It’s about leveling the playing field with whatever is available for us to do that,” Rosser said.

Cal State Online, Rosser said, could be used to cover less demanding remedial classes and would free faculty members to teach more demanding courses in person.

“This is more important than courses and degrees,” he said. “It’s how you use a new tool that California needs.”

Almost half of the CSU campus’ presidents spoke in support of Cal State Online during the Board meeting, praising it for its potential to reach out to students who cannot attend classes on campus and reach out to a greater number of students in total.

J. Michael Ortiz, President of Cal Poly Pomona, even went so far as to suggest that Cal State Online could help reduce California’s carbon footprint.

Cal State Online debuted the first fleet of its pilot programs last week, unveiling six online degree programs at both the bachelor’s and master’s level.

According to Uhlenkamp, Cal State Online primarily targets former CSU students who have completed part of their degree coursework.

“Cal State Online is more of a traditional online environment,” Uhlenkamp said. “With CSU Online, these students will be able to complete a CSU degree, and the state gets a return on the investment.”

The courses cost between approximately $400 and $500 per unit, according to Uhlenkamp. Students can qualify for financial aid, with the exception of state university grants.

While each CSU campus has different admission requirements for each degree program, the application process is the same across the board, utilizing CSU Mentor, the same site used by brick-and-mortar CSU campuses, according to Uhlenkamp.

To take part in the program, each campus made a $50,000 commitment, according to Uhlenkamp.

While Cal State Online will cost the 23 CSU campuses approximately $1.15 million collectively, Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander said that Cal State Online would “certainly” be available to all CSU students in the future, giving them a chance to graduate sooner.

“What you will discover once these courses become commonplace is that many of our on campus students will also benefit from the additional educational options which might be online or on campus,” Alexander said via email.

According to Uhlenkamp, the program’s future will be determined by the success of the pilot programs.

“It’s going to depend on demand,” Uhlenkamp said. “We hope people realize there’s some value to the programs and the quality Pearson offers.”

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