California State University students this fall will be able to enroll in online classes offered at other Cal State campuses, the latest move by the state's public universities to expand online learning.
The program will offer 36 fully online classes in high-demand subjects such as biology, physical geography, statistics, astronomy and business finance.
University officials hope that offering the hard-to-get classes as an online option will help students obtain degrees and graduate faster. Credit at the Cal State campus offering the course will be reported to the student's home campus and included in transcripts.
Under the program, a political science student at San Diego State, for example, could enroll in an online American politics course offered by San Francisco State.
Most students at Cal State's 23 campuses, however, are already registered for classes in the fall term and may be unable to take advantage of the new program.
"Potentially, a few hundred or a thousand could participate but the window is closing because classes are going to be starting at the end of the month," said Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. "This is just rolling out, and we'll see what the participation rate is the first go-round."
The classes also aren't intended to be so-called MOOCs -- massive open online courses -- which can attract thousands of students. Each campus will control class size and in most cases make sure they are filled to capacity at 25 to 30 students.
"We still need to evaluate it," Uhlenkamp said. "Ultimately, we need to make sure professors are effective."
Many students will be looking to add classes to their schedule, so it could be good timing for some, said Sarah Couch, president of the California State Student Assn.
"This is not the be all and end all to end bottleneck courses, but this could be a step in the right direction," said Couch, 24, a graduate student at Sacramento State.
"Students are trying to work with CSU to get the classes they need and are ready to look outside the normal scope," she said. "This is step in the right direction for modernizing the CSU."
The push to get the program off the ground quickly stems in part from efforts by Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers to boost online learning as a way to cut costs.
Brown's 2013-14 budget provides $125 million in new funding for both Cal State and the University of California, including $10 million each to develop online technologies.
Those efforts have not been without controversy. San Jose State recently moved to suspend a highly touted collaboration with online provider Udacity to offer low-cost, for-credit online courses after finding that more than half of the students had failed to pass the classes.
Meanwhile, an improving fiscal climate -- including new funding from the passage of Proposition 30, which temporarily raises some taxes -- will allow most Cal State campuses to accept applications for the spring 2014 term, officials said.
Spring enrollments were severely restricted or even closed in past years because of budget cuts. Most campuses will be accepting transfer students, but a few, such as Humboldt State and Cal State Bakersfield, are accepting freshman as well.
An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 students are expected to enroll for the spring term systemwide, Uhlenkamp said.
About eight campuses -- including San Diego State, Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Northridge -- will still be closed to most spring admissions.
"We deeply regret having to take this action," said Northridge Provost Harry Hellenbrand. "But our unprecedented fall enrollment, which could total 10,000 new students, does not leave us the budget to accept more students in the spring."
Northridge will accept new graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math subjects; nursing students; new veterans; and community college students who hold a transfer degree.