Editorial: Online education is the future for community colleges

Recession stricken colleges in California breathed a sigh of relief in November when Proposition 30 passed, signaling a more positive future for higher education in the Golden State.

However, it’s a future that is poised to change greatly under the vision of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown touts online learning and the use of all technology at hand when it comes to higher education and the future. Part of his budget proposal includes pushing for schools to expand their online education offerings and look into programs similar to the pilot program of San Jose University.

Brown’s proposed state budget includes $16.9 million for community colleges and $10 million apiece for the UC and CSU systems for online course expansion of options to include hundreds of high-demand prerequisite classes that fill up quickly, according to an article by the Sacramento Bee.

Partnering with Udacity, a Silicon Valley startup that creates online college classes, SJU is planning to offer a variety of remedial and introductory courses online for credit, allowing both local and long distance students to take classes counted towards their degrees.

While such programs and initiatives are embracing the technology of the present and the future, there are possible drawbacks that can still be a cause for concern.

The SJU pilot program is already tackling one drawback that was originally brought up by opponents of Udacity’s program, in that classes did not count for any sort of credit, meaning there was little incentive for students to pursue such options.

Opponents to these online programs also point to the fact that online classes and forums within them take away the human networking element of the classroom. Students are left to only interact through typed words back and forth.

While this is true, it is not something that should stop the pursuit of this  avenue for higher education. Human interaction is important in education as much as it is in life overall, but in the context of how the SJU program and potentially others will be run it is a null point.

In fact while online or distance education has been around in this format for decades, the new wave of online courses being pushed for incorporate face-to-face interaction via Skype as well as chat rooms, blogs, discussion forums, electronic tutoring, instructional games,and push-button audio or video, according to the Sacramento Bee.

With the classes offered in this program being of the remedial and introductory level only, it leaves time in student’s schedules to take the classes they need for general education or their degree in a physical classroom.

The programs offered through the SJU pilot program are offered at a price that is significantly lower than the tuition of the university itself. Meaning that students can save both time and money, allowing them to potentially work towards their degrees faster.

The governor is pushing for schools to pursue these programs, to the tune of a nearly $37 million dollar investment according to the Sac Bee. The schools have say over how they will push for online and in the end it falls on the student body to set the tone for the education they want.

According to the Sac Bee, nearly one in four California community college students are expected to take at least one online course this year and almost half the states 112 community colleges offer degrees and certificates that can be obtained without ever attending a campus class.

Even with those options readily available, rising levels of on campus class enrollment meant that nearly a half-million students ended up on course waiting lists last year, according to the Sac Bee.

Partaking in the online classes that are offered sends the clear message that you want these classes and others to be offered, and that you find them to be helpful.

Showing the district administration and the state that you are dedicated to your education and are willing to take any steps to advance through it faster could encourage them to work towards offering more classes and more programs to assist the student body.

Human interaction in class is important and won’t be lost, but losing a bit of it in order to streamline and fix our educational system is well worth the sacrifice.