Gov. Jerry Brown wants California to launch its first fully online public community college to help 2.5 million young adults without college credentials gain skills for better jobs and greater economic mobility.
In the 2018-19 budget plan he unveiled Wednesday, Brown proposed spending $120 million to open such a college by fall 2019, with a focus on short-term credential programs for careers in fields including advanced manufacturing, healthcare and child development.
The governor is a longtime advocate of online learning, which he sees as more cost effective than traditional education.
Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the 114-campus California Community College system, said the online college is targeted at people who don't have time to physically go to school to attend classes, and that it won't compete with traditional campuses.
"What we're talking about are job skills … that target adult learners — those who are in the workforce with no college or some college but no credential," he said.
These are people, Oakley said, who work hard to support their families but find themselves "stranded" in an economy that is "unforgiving" without college credentials. In his budget plan, Brown said that such Californians are at "great risk during economic downturns and from the impact of automation in the California workforce."
Community college officials say they have worked in recent years to significantly improve their online learning programs. A 2015 UC Davis study of 217,000 state community college students found that those who took online courses between 2008 and 2012 had lower grades and course completion rates than those who took the same courses in person.
In 2013, San Jose State University abruptly suspended an online learning program with Udacity, a Silicon Valley start-up, after more than half of the students enrolled failed to pass final exams.
Laura Hope, a California Community Colleges executive vice chancellor, said improved classes and tools for online orientation, counseling and tutoring have significantly narrowed the performance gap between online and traditional classes. Nearly two-thirds of online students completed their courses in 2015-16, compared with just over half a decade earlier. Over the same period, the percentage of students who completed traditional classes stayed roughly the same, at about 71%.
One in three community college students now take at least one online course, Hope said, twice as many as a decade ago. The option gives working adults more flexibility and cuts the cost of transportation and childcare, she said.
All told, Brown wants to boost revenue for the community colleges from general funds and property taxes by $609 million, or 6.5%, to $9.9 billion.
The University of California and Cal State University did not do as well in the governor's plan. Brown proposed increasing their funding by 3%, down from 4% in each of the last few years. Overall, UC would receive about $3.5 billion and Cal State about $3.8 billion in general fund dollars.
Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, in a statement, called the proposal "concerning and surprising." University trustees had requested three times the amount proposed.