The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges recently awarded the partnership of the Foothill-De Anza and Butte-Glenn community college districts a $16.9 million competitive grant to launch Gov. Jerry Brown’s Online Education Initiative in California.
Building on the existing California Virtual Campus, the launch team will develop a one-stop statewide online education portal where California community college students can apply, register and take online courses from participating colleges.
The initiative’s goal is to increase the number of California students who earn associate degrees and transfer to four-year universities by dramatically boosting the number of online classes available and providing online students with support services to help them succeed.
Rather than requiring each college independently to define separate courses and degree programs, the Online Education Initiative will provide funding, support and best practices for all California community colleges to offer courses and programs via a statewide portal and common course management system, backed with an array of student support services.
An Online Education Initiative Advisory Committee representing all community college constituency groups will provide oversight for developing the initiative, with the faculty playing a primary leadership role.
“This is a cutting-edge vision for California,’” said Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda M. Thor. “I believe it will transform online learning for millions of community college students.”
Participation in the consortium of colleges delivering courses through the statewide portal will be voluntary, according to the launch team’s executive dean, Joseph Moreau, Foothill-De Anza’s vice chancellor of technology.
“California community colleges have always led the state in online education,” Moreau said. “By bringing together the talent and expertise within our own system and building on the technological innovation in Silicon Valley, we believe we can create an online education environment that will exceed anything any of us could accomplish alone.”
Moreau added that a statewide system has the potential to decrease operational costs by reducing overlap and taking advantage of economies of scale.
Scheduled to begin the project next week, the grant partners have recruited a launch team of community college veterans and will assemble a permanent staff. Moreau is slated to meet with technology companies to inform them about the project and exchange thoughts and ideas for implementation. In addition, Foothill-De Anza has been examining issues related to student retention and success online with the Stanford Graduate School of Education and intends to expand that partnership as part of the initiative.
Demand for online courses is on the rise. In 2011-2012, 27 percent of California community college students were enrolled in distance education courses – a 14.5 percent increase over the previous six years. That same year, more than 50 percent of California community colleges offered at least one degree or certificate through distance education.
Foothill-De Anza has been an early leader in distance education and was the first community college district in California to offer courses online. It has expanded its catalog of online courses to meet student demand and currently offers 20 fully online degrees. Additionally, the district is experienced in online course development and open source learning management systems. The Online Education Initiative grant is the largest in Foothill-De Anza’s history.