Closing persistent equity gaps in higher education will require California to embrace an agile educational model built around student success–one that is driven by student-centered decisions, adaptive to evolving workforce demands, and optimized to serve as a vehicle to equitable opportunity. Calls for the adoption of online education and services in higher education have been met with significant resistance, but the pandemic–that brought forth many challenges and changes–forced higher education to provide remote courses and service delivery and reflect on their role in improving access, while raising questions of quality and cost.
Today, students, particularly those for whom access to higher education has been limited, have expressed a strong demand for online courses. Higher education leaders have indicated plans to grow their online offerings, and policymakers have set targets and incentives for increased online learning. Now more than ever, efforts need to be invested in revealing the full transformative potential of virtual learning modals and turning an ad-hoc solution from the crisis into a systematic approach to modernizing higher education.
Yet, significant resistance to online modes of learning exist. For example, California Community Colleges’ first online college, Calbright, endured significant opposition before it was launched, which has continued each year of its existence. Legislators have authored bills to defund it, with a third attempt this past year, and called on the state auditor to examine how the college is accomplishing its mission.
Why is there such reluctance and friction to a high-demand avenue that–if integrated with intention and systemically–could improve educational access, outcomes, and opportunities? It shouldn’t be a pitting of one modality over another but rather strategic planning of how to provide an array of high-quality modalities for students to choose what works for them. To this end, California Competes will investigate where are the main areas of discord over online education, understand why it exists, and provide guidance on how to lead through changes, combat resistance, and strengthen the state’s movement towards an equitable and agile system of learning.