Last week, California senator Darrel Steinberg introduced a bill that would allow the state’s public universities (the UCs and Cal State schools) to award credit for certain MOOCs taken online. I consider this a great step forward for the California public higher education system — finally, acknowledgement from the higher-ups that the system has become overcrowded and too expensive, and that it’s time to find a way to reduce tuition fees for students.
UC faculty senators Robert L. Powell and Bill Jacob disagree, however, and criticized the legislation. The bill “raises grave concerns,” Robert L. Powell and Bill Jacob, the chairman and vice chairman of the UC system’s faculty Senate, wrote in a letter to colleagues, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. “The clear self-interest of for profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying,” they said.
As a product of the UC system myself (Go Bears!), I have to say I’m not exactly thrilled with Powell and Jacob’s stance. Considering their public universities’ tuition fees rival those of other private institutions, and the fact that these private institutions (i.e. Coursera and Udacity) sponsoring MOOCs are providing classes free and open to the public, the argument is weak. Taking MOOCs for credit for general education courses is no different than a student taking community college classes for credit — it’s simply another affordable option for students who are already paying an arm and a leg for their education at UCs and Cal State schools.
Millions are affected by California’s higher education system, so of course it’s only natural for its leaders to be cautious and thorough in regards to making significant changes to it. But the MOOC madness that has taken place in the last couple years has given educators and thought leaders a lot to consider in regards to the future of our country’s higher ed institutions. While MOOCs are certainly not the perfect solution to the overly-crowded and overly-priced California public school system, they’re an option that can ease students’ burdens in a small way by providing them with open, affordable alternatives to a handful of their already too-crowded general education courses.
Rhys Williams, Senator Steinberg’s spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times that the senator is not backing down in his commitment to the legislation. “Students and middle-class families are in desperate need of action to break the bottlenecks that are preventing timely graduation and ultimately increasing the burden of student debt,” Williams said.
Luckily, there are
many professors across brick-and-mortar institutions who also believe in providing open, affordable access to education. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published the results of the largest-ever survey of professors who have taught MOOCs, and the vast majority of professors believe that the online courses are, in fact worth the hype, and taught MOOCs of their own because of a desire to increase access to higher education worldwide.
This survey was given to 100 professors who had gone to the trouble to teach these courses, so it’s no surprise that most of them believe in the value of MOOCs. Still, eighty-six percent of these advocates believe that MOOCs could eventually reduce the cost of attaining a college degree. However, 66 percent don’t believe their home institution will eventually grant formal credit to students who succeed in their MOOCs, so perhaps this idea that MOOCs may some day reduce tuition is wishful thinking for top-tier universities which the professors of these MOOCs come from.
Ultimately though, there are professors out there who want to see the number of MOOCs for credit increase across all higher education institutions, according to the article:
[University of Pennsylvania professor Robert Ghrist], for one, hopes to see the number of creditworthy MOOCs go up as massive online courses proliferate. And he hopes that, as they do, universities like Penn will begin conferring transfer credits on students who enroll with several MOOCs already under their belts—allowing them to finish their degrees more quickly, for less money. “I have four kids who are going to have to go to college,” said Mr. Ghrist. By the time they do, the professor fully expects that MOOCs will be an important component of their applications.
It’s worth checking out the survey, as well as Steve Kolowich’s in-depth article about the results, which you can find here.
What are your thoughts on the implementation of MOOCs in brick-and-mortar institutions? Sound off in the comments below, or with us on Twitter to @Technapex or @ce_doyle.