Sebastian Thrun, Cal State Chancellor Timothy White and San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi at the Udacity-SJ State Press conference

Sebastian Thrun, Cal State

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Chancellor Timothy White and San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi at the Udacity-SJ State Press conference

The New York Times reported this morning an agreement for Udacity to test the MOOC approach for introductory courses at San Jose State University, one of the flagship campuses of the 427,000 student strong California State system. The provost characterized 50 percent of students entering the system as not meeting basic requirements. As a financial matter for the state this is a colossal failure at the K-12 level, where $38 billion is spent annually, leaving the Cal State system exposed to a lot of remedial work. The press release specified that elementary statistics, college algebra, and intermediate algebra would be the three courses offered in the pilot.

The Times reports the plans started with a call from the governor, who as we reported had recently addressed the topic of online education at the UC Regents meeting :

Dr. Thrun said that the new approach being pursued by Udacity came in response to a phone call from Mr. Brown. “For me this started cold turkey with a call from the California governor who said, ‘Hey Sebastian, we have a crisis in the state.’ ”

A crisis long in the making with massive demographic shifts, the governor’s approach — if followed through on — is a notable bookend to his father’s legacy achievement, the creation of the Master Plan for Higher Education. That plan, adopted in 1960 by Pat Brown, set ratios for admission to UCs (an eighth of students in California would be eligible) and Cal State systems (a third.). All students would be eligible for the third tier of community colleges.

Udacity, Coursera and others have made an impact on high end courses of artificial intelligence and software design — cognitively demanding courses. Can MOOCs work in more remedial situations as well? Will the existence of self-pacing and self-selecting MOOCs make a three-tiered higher education system obsolescent? Sound off in the comments below.