I want to thank those who choose to take a deeper look at community colleges and online learning than the authors of some recent articles have done. The California Community Colleges (CCC) is aware of the completion gap, and why it exists.
The CCC Online Education Initiative (OEI) grant specifically calls on us to close this gap between online and traditional classes. But rather than simply throwing more money at increasing online courses as a recent column in the Hechinger Report suggests, we are taking a very different approach. Our approach includes providing the full resources needed to make online learning as effective as possible within our system. We also know that by working with instructional design support, our own faculty is quite capable of creating excellent, rather than “primitive” (where primitive refers to non-publisher created courses, as mentioned in the column) online courses.
A May 2014 report published by the Public Policy Institute of California explored this very problem and found that, while individual online course success rates are low, students who take at least some online courses are more likely to reach their educational goals. The report also highlighted some potential solutions, many of which were already being pursued by the OEI.
Specifically, the OEI is directly addressing students’ needs by:
- Offering an online course exchange through which students may take required classes for credit from other California community colleges if they are not available locally
- Creating readiness assessments and assistance to help students understand and prepare for the online learning environment
- Providing access to 24/7 online tutoring services
- Building consistent quality of online courses by offering teachers and course designers effective course design support in a variety of ways
Access To Resources
Online education programs and colleges in general have been under-resourced since they began. We also know that students who most need access to education are very often community college students.
We also recognize that quality of our online courses has historically been inconsistent, mostly due to lack of sufficient resources. Funding for the Online Education Initiative is used to provide centralized technology resources to both ensure high-quality course offerings and that students are prepared to learn online, while respecting and supporting the significant local-college online education efforts.
Additionally, we are negotiating cost reduction in technology solutions that our colleges have not been able to afford on their own.
Closing The Gap
The reason colleges offer online education is not for our community colleges to look more “attractive” to students, as mentioned in the column. Rather it is to reach our students—many of whom cannot make it to campus or cannot make a needed course fit into an existing schedule, to name just two challenges.
We know how to increase retention and success and we are doing those things in our initiative (providing faculty resources and professional development, student resources and readiness solutions, and appropriately funded technology, among other solutions). If you want to know whether our online programs have “failed” or not, just speak to those students who never would have completed an education if these courses were not available.