Local educators, state rep lukewarm on proposed online community college

Joel Vaughn


A new statewide online California community college is proposed to focus on career and credential programs. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2018-19 budget plan calls for $120 million to have the college up and running by the fall 2019. (Photo by Juliette Leufke, Unsplash)

Joel Vaughn

A state online community college may be just over the horizon, though local faculty and elected officials aren’t quite sure if it’s entirely necessary.

Funding has been approved for Gov. Jerry Brown’s fully online community college. The college is planned to focus on career and credential programs. Brown’s 2018-19 budget plan proposed spending $120 million to have the college up and running by the fall 2019.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley praised the inclusion of the proposed online college in a statement June 14.

“California’s state leaders have truly delivered on a promise to put students first and set an example for the rest of the nation by adopting a new funding formula that incentivizes student success and creating a new online community college,” Oakley wrote.

Though the need is imminent, MiraCosta College history professor and Faculty Assembly President Brad Byrom said he has trepidations about the new statewide online college.

“I think the whole concept is a little off base; it seems that there’s a misunderstanding of what we already do for online students,” Byrom said.

He also pointed out that many of his colleagues are concerned with the lack of consultation with faculty and administrators for this fully online college.

“If the resources were put into local online programs, they would be better spent in that direction,” Byrom said. “There seems to be a poor understanding of what exactly they’re going to do with this program.”

This uneasiness about the new state online college extends to Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside, 76th District).

Though he sees the need for an online community college, particularly among working parents, Chavez said he is concerned that the additional bureaucracy from a fully online community college is unnecessary.

“We do know there’s a need, but I would’ve done it through the community colleges,” Chavez said.

Chavez also noted that, if you take fully online out of the equation, many of the current California community colleges already have online programs that are competing with for-profit colleges.

“Now with technology and people changing occupation two or three times before they retire,” Chavez said, “you’re not educating 19- and 20-year-olds, you’re educating 35- and 45-year-olds.”

Chavez explained that for-profit colleges are already filling that gap and presenting a need for community colleges to step up to those needs.

“The community colleges can already do this; we just need to resource it and make it more of a priority,” Chavez said.

Palomar College Faculty Federation President and economics professor Teresa Laughlin also said she appreciates the new online college striving for access to more Californians but doesn’t see a state community college as a good idea.

“The Online College siphons money away from existing programs, weakening them,” Laughlin said in an email.

Laughlin said she sees the funding having a better use in strengthening existing online programs.

Byrom also pointed out that local students may opt into this fully online program and miss out on the support and structure offered at a nearby community college.

Palomar College communications major Erika Valdez is an example of this.

Valdez said she prefers the classroom environment for its engagement with the professor and the absence of pressure from an online course.

“I just prefer the interaction and the whole vibe of it, getting up, going to class versus staying at home and just jumping on the computer,” Valdez said.

However, Palomar College sociology major Michelle Watson sees it form a different angle. As a returning college student, Watson said she finds online classes intimidating but more convenient.

“I’ve always been in a classroom; I don’t know too much about online,” Watson said.

Though the change of pace from the classroom would be difficult, Watson said, she would eagerly enroll in a fully online program.

“You don’t have to commute back and forth to the classroom from home and work; everything is on the computer,” Watson said. “It’s more accessible.”

Joel Vaughn is a North County freelance writer