Last week California SB520 – the bill aiming to create a pool of online availability of 50 high-demand lower-division courses for which the public systems would have to award credit – was amended based on ongoing discussions and negotiations. The fact that the bill has been amended is not surprising, as this is the intent of the legislative process.
Michael and I have covered the basics of SB520, original text, and some analysis in recent posts. The specific amendments can be viewed at the official CA legislature site.
The themes of the amendments are to:
shift the approval of the pool of online courses from the California Open Access Resources Council (COERC) to the administration and faculty senates of the three systems (University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges);
tie the administration of the program to the California Virtual Campus;
restrict each course to matriculated California public higher education and qualifying K-12 students;
tie the provisions of the bill to funding in the Annual Budget Act; and
remove any tie to American Council on Education recommendations.
Amended Bill Language
Below are some of the key changes to the bill, with markups (red strikethrough text for deletions, blue for additions).
This bill would establish the California Online Student Access Platform under the administration of the California Open Education Resources Council President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, jointly, with the academic senates of the respective segments. The bill would require the platform, among other things, to provide an efficient statewide mechanism for online course providers to offer transferable courses for credit and to create a pool of these online courses. The bill would require the council, among other things, President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, jointly, with the academic senates of the respective segments, to develop a list of the 50 most impacted lower division courses, as defined, at the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges that are deemed necessary for program completion or fulfilling transfer requirements, or deemed satisfactory for meeting general education requirements in areas defined as high-demand transferable lower division courses under the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum and, for each of those 50 courses, to promote the availability of multiple high-quality online course options, as specified.
The bill would establish the California Student Access Pool, through which students could access online courses, and would require the online courses approved by the council President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, jointly, with the academic senates of the respective segments, under the bill to be placed in this pool the California Virtual Campus. The bill would require that matriculated students taking of campuses of the University of California, California State University, or California Community Colleges, and California high school pupils, who complete online courses available in the pool and achieving developed through the platform and achieve a passing score on corresponding course examinations, be awarded full academic credit for the comparable an equivalent course at the University of California, the California State University, or the California Community Colleges. Because Colleges, as applicable.
The bill would provide that funding for the implementation of this provision would be provided in the annual Budget Act, and express the intent of the Legislature that the receipt of funding by the University of California for the implementation of this provision be contingent on its compliance with its requirements. Because this provision would require community colleges to award academic credit under these circumstances, it would constitute a state-mandated local program.
Section 1 is the findings and declarations portion of the bill, and changes include a focus on faculty partnership.
(e) California could significantly benefit from a statutorily enacted, quality-first, faculty-led framework that increases partnerships between faculty and online course technology providers aimed at allowing students in online courses in strategically selected lower division majors and general education fields to be awarded areas to take online courses for credit at the UC, CSU, and CCC systems. While providing easy access to these courses, these systems could also continually assess the value of the courses and the rates of student success in utilizing these alternative online pathways.
Section 2 is the major addition to California legislation if enacted, adding section 66409.3 to the Education Code. The phrase “in partnership with faculty members of the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges,” has been added in several areas. Some key section changes
(c) For purposes of accomplishing all of the objectives of the platform as specified in subdivision (b), the California Open Education Resources Council President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, jointly, with the academic senates of the respective segments, shall do all of the following:
(1) (A) Develop a list of the 50 most impacted lower division courses at the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges that are deemed necessary for program completion or fulfilling transfer requirements, or deemed satisfactory for meeting general education requirements. requirements, in areas defined as high-demand transferable lower division courses under the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum.
(B) For purposes of this paragraph, “impacted lower division course” means a course in which, during most academic terms, the number of students seeking to enroll in the course exceeds the number of spaces available in the course.
(2) (A) For each of the 50 courses identified under paragraph (1), solicit and promote appropriate partnerships between online course technology providers and faculty of the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges which, by the fall term of the 2014–15 academic year, shall result in the availability of multiple high-quality online course options in which students may enroll in that term.
(B) An online course developed pursuant to this paragraph shall be deemed to meet the lower division transfer and degree requirements for the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges.
The amendments stipulate that faculty must be associated with each course, and enrollment is limited to matriculated California students.
(3) Create and administer a standardized review and approval process for online courses in which most or all course instruction is delivered online and is open to any interested person. When
reviewing for matriculated students of the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges, or for California high school pupils. No course shall be approved for purposes of this section unless the course has associated with it a faculty sponsor who is a member of the faculty of the University of California, the California State University, or the California Community Colleges.
In a significant change, any reference to recommendations coming from the American Council on Education have been removed.
(G)Includes content that has been reviewed and recommended by the American Council on Education.
Courses will be listed in the California Virtual Campus and budgeting applied through the Annual Budget Act.
(d) Online courses approved by the California Open Education Resources Council through the platform pursuant to this section shall be placed in the California Student Access Course Pool, which is hereby created Virtual Campus, through which students may access the courses. Students taking A matriculated student of a campus of the University of California, California State University, or California Community Colleges, or a California high school pupil, who completes an online course available in the California Student Access Course Pool and achieving developed through the platform and achieves a passing score on the corresponding course examination shall be awarded full academic credit for the comparable an equivalent course at the University of California, the California State University, or the California Community Colleges, as applicable.
(e) Funding for the implementation of this section shall be provided in the annual Budget Act. It is the intent of the Legislature that, notwithstanding Section 67400, the receipt of funding by the University of California for the implementation of this section be contingent on its compliance with the requirements of this section.
Response to Faculty Senate Pushback
Many of these changes appear to be in response to faculty senate pushback. The CSU faculty senate “voted unanimously to take a formal position of oppose unless amended with regard to SB 520″. The biggest concern from faculty centered on the involvement of California Open Access Resources Council (COERC), which they felt removed authority over curricula and bypassing existing quality measures in the three systems.
The part of the faculty senate pushback that goes to the intent of the bill, and therefore was not included in any amendments, is their concern over the applicability of online education to lower-division courses.
More specifically, the ASCSU has serious concerns about increasing access to California’s higher education system for lower division students through the use of online courses of study. CSU is a leader in online course delivery for upper division and graduate students. However, research has shown that online courses are not as effective for lower division students, underprepared students, or lower income students. Targeting lower division courses for online delivery puts these very students at greater risk for failure rather than facilitating their access to academic success.
These changes are very recent, so it remains to be seen the affect of these changes on faculty support or resistance.
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For any online program in the US that enroll students from more than one state, the issue of the Department of Education’s State Authorization proposed regulations is a major issue. WCET has played a leading role in raising awareness on the issue as well as pushing for a solution. From their summary page (read the whole page for a summary of the timeline, pushback, state regulations, etc):
On October 29, 2010, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) released new “program integrity” regulations. One of the regulations focused on the need for institutions offering distance or correspondence education to acquire authorization from any state in which it “operates.” This authorization is required to maintain eligibility for students of that state to receive federal financial aid. Institutions have until July 1, 2014, to have obtained the appropriate approvals. Meanwhile, institutions are required to demonstrate a ‘good faith’ effort to comply in each state in which it serves students. While the regulation has been ‘vacated’ by court order, we believe it will be reinstated.
To give an idea of the issues, consider that Missouri charges institutions $5,000 – $25,000 fees to register in the state, and there is a burdensome process. While not all states are as expensive as Missouri, the costs and overhead add up quickly, and there are conflicting and inconsistent requirements from state to state. According to a survey from UPCEA, WCET and Sloan-C, one third of online programs have not applied to any states outside their home, despite the serving a median of 37 states. Furthermore State Authorization rules would stifle online education programs and is already causing many programs to reject students in certain states.
Despite losing in court (the ruling was vacated), the Department of Education still plans on pushing forward and planning to revive State Authorization.
The most promising approach to dealing with this situation is the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).
The backbone of the Commission’s recommendations is a system of interstate reciprocity based on the voluntary participation of states and institutions to govern the regulation of distance education programs. Participating states will agree on a uniform set of standards for state authorization that ensure that institutions can easily operate distance education programs in multiple states as long as they meet certain criteria relating to institutional quality, consumer protection, and institutional financial responsibility (further described below). Participating institutions must be authorized by their “home state” (which is, presumptively, the institution’s state of legal domicile).Once designated, the home state should have responsibility for authorizing the institution for purposes of interstate reciprocity and be the default forum for consumer complaints.
WCET has a summary post up by Russ Poulin that describes the latest report and commission meeting on SARA.
A national meeting on next steps in state reciprocity was held in Indianapolis on April 16 and 17. The purpose of the event was to serve as an initial introduction to representatives from each state about next steps in reciprocity.
The session focused on the report: Advancing Access through Regulatory Reform: Findings, Principles, and Recommendations for the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) that was recently released by the Commission on the Regulation on Postsecondary Distance Education. The Commission, which is a committee formed by APLU (the land-grant universities) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers, built upon the work of previous efforts of the Presidents’ Forum/Council of State Governments and the regional higher education compacts. You can see a short history of state authorization and the reciprocity efforts on our web page.
Russ goes on to describe support from ACE and even Hal Plotkin from the Department of Education:
While the Department of Education cannot formally endorse the work, he brought a two-word message from the Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter: “thank you.”
There is also a summary of the key questions being considered, including accreditation affects, fees for institutions participating in SARA, determination of Home State, and impact of the 25% rule (more on that one in a future post).
In short – this is an important issue to track, and WCET has some excellent resources to help online programs stay up-to-date.
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