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Editorial: Outsourcing education is not the cure for waitlisted class woes

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A bill recently introduced to the California Senate may make it easier for college students to receive general education credits for online classes, but it also threatens the quality of education for GE requirements.

If passed, California Senate Bill 520, introduced by State Senator Darrell Steinberg in February, will force the heads of the California State University, California Community Colleges and University of California to work with academic senates “to develop and deploy high-quality online options for strategically selected lower division courses, as specified, and provides that funding for this purpose be required in the Budget Act,” according to the bill analysis by the Senate Committee on Education.

While providing greater online options may sound like a golden opportunity for students to eliminate GE requirements, the bill may really just open a door for private, for-profit companies to provide sub-par education alternatives to students.

[singlepic id=255 w=150 h=300 float=left]The problem arises with how the senate plans to actually provide these online courses. They place the burden on the current heads of the CCC, CSU and UC systems “to facilitate appropriate partnerships, including but not necessarily limited to, inter-segmental and intra-segmental partnerships developed, as specified, and partnerships between online course providers and faculty members,” according to the bill analysis.

What this basically means is that SB 520 will force public california colleges to create partnerships with outside, private education sources to provide online general education options to students, while allocating funds from the state budget for this purpose.

The only new opportunity students will really have is the opportunity to choose inferior, for-profit classes over state approved, quality controlled classes that fulfill the same GE requirements. This will be payed for with state funding that could just as easily be allocated directly to California colleges.

The UC Academic Council Chair Robert Powell and Vice Chair Bill Jacob already voiced their dismay towards the idea in a March 15 letter to the Academic Senate, stating “Senate Bill 520 raises grave concerns. We were not consulted in the writing of this legislation, which purports to address course access problems experienced by students in public higher education.”

It’s alarming that insights from actual public education authorities such as Powell and Jacob had not been considered by state senators in drafting a bill that so directly impacts public education. Surely, most of these politicians went to college at some point, some of them might have even read a book in the last ten years, but that by itself certainly doesn’t qualify them to make decisions about the future of secondary education in California.

The letter goes on to mention several reasons why SB 520 is so misguided.

“First, limits on student access to the courses this bill targets are in large part the result of significant reductions in public state higher education funding, especially over the last six years,” the letter reads. “Second, the clear self-interest of for profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying.”

The first point cuts the bill straight to the bone by pointing out that students only have issues accessing GE classes because of state budget cuts to public colleges. The second point highlights another disconcerting fact, that private companies that function for profit have a huge financial interest in promoting this legislation. Let’s also remember that whereas the main goal of public education is to provide a service to students, the main goal of a private company is always to make a profit.

These points raise an even greater question. If these student access problems are the result of budget cuts, why doesn’t state legislature increase funding to secondary education directly, rather than waste money on a program that will allow for-profit companies to provide low-quality GE classes with the same accreditation as college courses?

Since the issue of class availability for California college students is actually an issue of state funding for those classes, it’s asinine to burn money on potentially inferior classes, especially when the same money could be applied to the colleges themselves to bring back the classes that they already provided in the past.

SB 520 is nothing more than a misguided attempt to remedy the problems of wildly underfunded california colleges, but those problems won’t go away until we increase funding for the colleges themselves.

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Editorial: Outsourcing education is not the cure for waitlisted class woes