SAN FRANCISCO - University of California officials said today that they will move to expand the university's online course offerings, in an apparent political victory for Gov. Jerry Brown.
If successful, the effort could result in a new class of online students treated like those at community colleges, with the opportunity to transfer their credits to UC campuses and enroll.
"The idea would be to create another entry point to the University of California," UC President Mark Yudof said.
Yudof said that within two months he will announce an incentive program for UC professors to develop online courses, focusing on introductory or other high-enrollment courses that can be difficult to get into. He said the UC will establish a system to let students on one campus take online courses at another campus for credit, envisioning a day when 10 percent to 15 percent of all undergraduate courses are taken online.
Yudof said the university has "hit a wall" with regard to traditional instruction and that "it's not the time to be timid."
He said, "Intellectually, emotionally, we're ready."
The effort is likely to face resistance from many faculty members and, perhaps, students.
Proponents of online education, including Brown, believe online courses could expand access to education and eventually reduce infrastructure costs. Many faculty members have raised concerns about the quality of online education, and Bob Samuels, president of University Council - American Federation of Teachers, which represents lecturers throughout the UC, said it is unclear what savings, if any, online education could achieve.
"The stress on online education is a distraction from the real cost drivers," he said, listing administrative and other costs.
Jonathan Stein, the student regent on the university's governing board, said "no one has asked students if they're actually interested" in online education. Raquel Morales, president of the UC Student Association, said students are supportive of the use of online education to supplement in-class instruction, but she warned against a move an online-only model.
Sherry Lansing, chairwoman of the UC's governing board, said university officials are still evaluating the potential of online education, and that any initiatives would be subject to review.
Brown is pushing the UC and California State University systems to reduce costs and expand access to students. Following a meeting with UC regents in November, he predicted the measure would only come with "great resistance," and he said his meeting with regents in November was not as productive as he'd hoped.
This afternoon, Brown told reporters, "This was a very productive meeting, and I think what was most impressive is how enthusiastic the regents are. They all want to jump in."
In his budget proposal last week, Brown proposed additional funding of $250 million next year for each system. The amount was far less than university officials requested, but they have praised the proposal.
"Let's get real," Brown told the regents. "I'm proposing 5 percent more in your budget. You're proposing 11.6 (percent). How do you make up the gap? Either the students make it up in tuition increases this year and forever, faculty does something different, or in some way we change the model, or the people of California decide they want to invest more than they have historically in higher ed."
Brown called it a "brute reality," and he said, "There's not a luxury of sitting in the present trajectory, unless you don't mind paying ever-increasing tuition."
PHOTO CREDIT: University of California President Mark G. Yudof, in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench