California bill would expand clout of online college courses

State senator proposes requiring state's public institutions of higher learning to award academic credit for faculty-approved online courses.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose State University already offers massive open online courses, or MOOCs, for academic credit. Wikimedia Commons

A California state senator plans to introduce a bill tomorrow that would make California the first state in the nation to require its public universities and colleges to award academic credit for faculty-approved online courses.

The bill, to be submitted by California Senate President Darrell Steinberg, comes as state budgets for higher education are being slashed across the U.S., resulting in fewer spots for students in courses required for graduation. Credit for online courses would help students who are unable to register for impacted classes, possibly preventing expensive extended stays in school.

"We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn't get a seat in the course they needed," Steinberg told The New York Times. "That's the motivation for this."

U.S. colleges and universities in recent years have been ratcheting up their online offerings in an effort to improve graduation rates. More than 6.7 million students in the U.S. were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, according to a recent survey conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose State University already offers massive open online courses, or MOOCs, for academic credit. The oldest school in the 23-campus California State University system partnered with Silicon Valley startup Udacity in January to offer San Jose State Plus, a pilot program SJSU administrators said marked the first time a MOOC would be offered purely online for credit.

Udacity began offering MOOCs in early 2012, presenting a seemingly unlimited class size to students often hobbled by oversubscribed courses. One Udacity computer science class currently has 250,000 students enrolled.

Another benefit of MOOCs is the relatively low cost of classes to students -- the fee for each San Jose State Plus class is $150. San Jose State statistics professor Ron Rogers told CNET in January that the cost of the textbook alone for the same class on campus is $150, while the MOOC version of the class requires no textbook.

 

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