In the next few years, students at the University of California could take four — or about 10 percent — of their required classes online.
Or at least that’s what the UC Board of Regents is hoping. After a presentation from UC Provost Aimee Dorr about the progress of UC Online — a systemwide program that is separate from the online classes UC campuses already offer enrolled students — at Wednesday’s meeting, the regents debated what the role of online education at the university should be. While most agreed that it should be used to bring in revenue to the university’s coffers, there was concern, particularly from student representatives, that online classes would come to substitute in-person education instead of supplement it.
“We’ve talked extensively about how students learn today and that students are more native to the Internet. No one has asked students if they’re interested in this,” said student Regent Jonathan Stein. “Online education that is used to entirely substitute our current education is not something we would embrace.”
The renewed focus on online education comes less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown announced $10 million for online education at California’s public universities in his proposed budget. The state’s potential reinvestment in higher education — a marked shift from the past five years — would give the Board of Regents the resources to try some of the ideas they’ve been talking about, regents said at the meeting.
Since UC Online launched last January, it has not operated as planned. Although about 1,700 UC students have enrolled in its online courses so far, only one non-UC student has taken a class through the program. Non-matriculated students, such as people in China or the military who wanted to take a UC course but were unable to be on a physical campus, were expected to be a lucrative source of revenue. But since other prestigious universities like Stanford and Harvard have begun offering their online courses for free through MOOCs, those markets are not materializing.
For this reason, UC President Mark Yudof said the university’s focus should be on students who are already enrolled in the UC. Administrators are hoping to significantly increase the number and breadth of classes that UC Online currently offers. By offering entry-level courses that are in high demand online, the university can dramatically increase access to students at community colleges or high schools and improve diversity.
“It’s no secret that UC has hit a wall with regard to traditional instructional methods,” Yudof said. “The finances simply no longer exist to support the old model of instruction in many ways.”
The regents also heard presentations from representatives of three major MOOCs — Sebastian Thrun of Udacity, Daphne Koller of Coursera and Anant Agarwal of edX. Although some individual UC campuses have entered into partnerships with these MOOCs, most regents did not view their business model as financially viable for the university.