Tuesday, February 19, 2013

State Senate Hearing on Higher Ed: Online Program, Budget Goals, and Accountability

The recent California State Senate hearing on higher education provided some news and many interesting discussions. Patrick Lenz announced that the UC will be holding all day meetings with senate faculty on online education April 13th and 25th. He also added that the UC did not think the move to online courses would save money in the near future. However, UCOP is looking to create more courses for the summer that would be available for cross campus enrollment in the Fall.

Nick Schweizer from the Department of Finance stated that the governor’s basic strategy is to increase funding for the UC system and hold the university accountable to certain outcomes, which have yet to be announced. When pressed for details, he discussed increased graduate rates and a shorter time to degree. He also added that online education could play a major role in reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. One possibility is to use a virtual community college to allow students to take all of their courses online before they transfer to a UC. A related strategy would be to make it easier for students to get credit for outside online courses by using the exam-for-credit program.

While access and affordability were the main themes, legislators had a hard time seeing how the issue of educational quality connected to the governor’s proposals. The real problem is that since there is no real agreement on how to measure and compare student learning and the effectiveness of teaching, everyone falls back on the countable measures of credits and degrees generated. This same problem is evident in President Obama’s new college scorecard, which defines “value” by the net cost, the average debt, the graduation rate, and the loan default rate.