Online General Education Courses for California College Students Make Sense
By guest blogger Dr. Paul Krivonos, ACE Board Member; Secretary Emeritus Professor, Communications Studies, California State University, Northridge
Technology is one of the great problem solving tools in education.
The California legislature introduced a bill that would allow students in the three higher education systems in the state (UC, CSU, and Community College) to use on-line courses from other institutions and private vendors to complete general education (GE) courses. These courses often have long waits due to limited resources, making it difficult for students to expeditiously complete their degrees. This problem is acute.
I have worked for close to 40 years at Cal State Northridge as a professor of Communication Studies; a chair in the same department for nine of those years; an Associate Dean in the College of Arts, Media, and Communication for three, and the Director of the University’s Public Sector Management Program for another three. In all of those years, I noticed a growing trend of the inability of students to take certain GE courses because of this bottleneck effect.
As associate dean, I was responsible for most student related issues, including curriculum and overseeing our college’s Student Advisement Center. It was incredibly frustrating to have students come into my office virtually in tears because they could not get into a required GE class to progress along their educational path or to graduate. It may seem odd that students would get all the way through their education and still need a lower division class to complete their degree, but it frequently happened. Most often it was through no fault of the students themselves, but rather because they were never able to find a place in oversubscribed courses.
Even more disheartening was to have to turn down a student for admission when I was director of CSUN’s Public Sector Management (PSM) degree-completion program. As an upper-division only program, students, for the most part, could not be admitted to the program without having completed all lower-division GE coursework. Most students in the program were working adults, often overcoming great odds to pursue their education. Informing them they could not enroll in the program, only because they were unable to get into a required course that they had been attempting to take for several semesters, was heartbreaking.
In all these instances, there were creative suggestions by our college’s Student Advisement Center director and staff in the university’s admissions department that did allow for some flexibility, albeit with some unusual application of university regulations. We were able to steer students to the early on-line GE courses at other universities (at times even from other states) that they could take to fulfill a GE requirement, but only if that course had been approved for use by a previous student who had transferred to the campus. We were able to build a small, but viable set of on-line courses from other universities, which allowed students access to a GE course, but only on a haphazard, idiosyncratic basis.
All this led to my support for the proposal now in front of the California legislature. Having a standard set of on-line courses used by students to avoid bottlenecks caused by oversubscribed GE courses would provide a great opportunity for students and administrators alike:
• Students could more efficiently plan their academic careers without being stymied by the inability to enroll in required GE courses. Online selection would provide flexibility to fit GE courses into their schedule when convenient, not just when one becomes available, and perhaps not even within the traditional semester or quarter pattern.
• Administration could better allocate scarce resources to plan curriculum and help students with academic and career advice, eliminating wasting valuable time and effort helping students find needed GE courses.
An important part of this proposal is the “acceptability” of courses for inclusion. All of these on-line courses from any source need to be approved by a faculty panel. As long as this nod to academic integrity becomes part of the legislation, then the proposal remains a sound one.
Once on the approved list, a course could be used by California college students to fulfill GE requirements. It would probably even be appropriate to allow high school seniors and non-matriculating high schools graduates to take these courses so they could accrue coursework toward a college degree and get a head start on their college careers.
In an era of diminishing resources, burgeoning technological advances in educational options, and greater demand for college enrollment, California’s proposal for allowing credit for such on-line GE courses is an idea well worth supporting. It is one that will give students a much greater opportunity to traverse the already all too complex world of higher education without being stymied and frustrated by not being able to enroll in required GE courses. As Darrell Steinberg, author of the bill and President Pro Tem of the California State Senate, said in a Los Angeles Times article, “Technology is a growing force in our lives and we need to use it to try to help as many young people achieve their dreams and compete in the modern economy.”
The ACE Partner Schools use technology as an important tool to successfully help students prepare for college. Technology needs to go to college too.