Brown’s Fully Online College Proposal Creates an Opportunity for Stranded Workers to Keep Up, Move Up

California community colleges have long served as an invaluable access point for students seeking postsecondary education and for adults striving for job advancement. As the demands of our state’s diverse population and workforce have rapidly changed, and income inequality has grown, the state needs to take bold steps to expand access and help close our degree and credential attainment gap. Governor Brown’s proposal to create the 115th community college as a fully online campus is one option that should be added to California’s ecosystem of higher education opportunities.

Much of the discussion has been about “stranded workers,” the roughly 2.5 million Californians aged 25 to 34 who lack opportunities to pursue the degrees and certificates necessary for advancement. It is estimated that another 6.2 million adults aged 35 to 65 are in the same position. Among these workers, 49 percent are Latino, 31 percent White, 9 percent Asian, and 7 percent African American. All Californians should have the opportunity to live the California dream—one-fifth of our state’s population should not be restricted from the promise of economic mobility.

We need more flexible structures that allow adult learners to access education that corrects for the very real constraints that students face. An online community college is part of the solution.

What has kept these stranded workers from succeeding in the current higher education system? Workers struggle with the rigidity of semester-based class schedules, lack of transportation and childcare, and the responsibility of being a family’s primary wage earner which doesn’t permit time away from work. We need more flexible structures that allow adult learners to access education that corrects for the very real constraints that students face. An online community college is part of the solution.

That is not to say that online education, and the proposal for a fully online college, is without its concerns. As plans to roll out an online college develop, we must remain vigilant in protecting equitable access, choice, and quality.           

For one, it’s critical that we ensure equity in online course taking, such that underrepresented students are not unduly channeled into online courses while more resourced students have the benefit of deep instructor engagement. We must also preserve choice, so that students who thrive in classrooms with face-to-face instruction continue to have that as a possibility, while others who prefer an online program that allows for flexibility have that as an option. Finally, the proposal raises the issue of quality: It is imperative that the new college offer online courses every bit as rigorous, and with educational supports every bit as comprehensive, as classroom courses so that online offerings become a viable choice for all students. 

We recognize that for some of these questions, there aren’t immediate answers, but we at California Competes are committed to elevating these issues and offering solutions as the Chancellor’s office develops its online platform.

California needs widespread innovation in higher education to maintain education access and remain economically competitive.

California needs widespread innovation in higher education to maintain equitable access and remain economically competitive. Governor Brown’s proposal to establish a fully online community college campus provides a chance for individuals who cannot reasonably attend a brick and mortar college to keep up—and move up—in our economy.