College Guide


July 20, 2010 2:25 PM University of California at Cyberspace

By Daniel Luzer

The University of California system, wracked with state funding cuts, now has vague plans to offer an all-online bachelor’s degree in the future. According to an article by Daniel Wood in the Christian Science Monitor:

The University of California - considered to be America’s top public university - hopes to become the country’s first top-tier research institution to offer a bachelor’s degree over the Internet that is comparable in quality to its campus program.
A pilot program of 25 to 40 courses this fall would offer the university’s most crowded courses, including calculus, chemistry, physics, and freshman composition.

A number of professors are skeptical of this plan. The trouble is not only the online classes themselves, but the “centralized academic policy that undermines faculty control of academic standards and curriculum,” wrote Berkeley’s faculty association in May.

But online advocates, like Villanova’s Sean O’Donnell and the University of Southern California’s William Tierney, say online is the wave of the future. “It’s a good idea,” said O’Donnell: “Online education has proven time and time again that, when done correctly, it is a very effective means of educating the greater masses.”

This is actually debatable. According to the article:

Mr. Tierney, Mr. O’Donnell, and others say that not enough research has yet been done to know how students learn online, how they perform afterward, what technology is needed, and how much it costs to maintain such a system.

But wait, those are precisely the things the university needs to figure out before it decides if online is the way to go. What, exactly, makes it so promising? Is it just that it’s cheap?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • justaguy on July 21, 2010 1:34 AM:

    I've yet to see any actual numbers to suggest that its cheap. You save money on facilities, but spend more money on IT infrastructure. The majority of things that go into teaching are labor intensive - grading a paper that's emailed to you takes just as long as grading one that's handed in in person. Certain things are easier to do in person than over email.

    I think that online education is probably very useful for students who are unable to attend college due to their schedules or other issues. But the idea that this is the golden bullet that will make the UC system profitable without sacrificing quality of instruction strikes me as very unlikely.