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Is There Hope for California After All?

Something astonishing is happening in blue California: actual forward-looking policy innovation.

A recent NYT article reports on a new bill before the State Senate that would require public universities to give credit for online courses. The goal is to make it easier for students who can’t get into oversubscribed introductory classes to still get credit for the classes they need to take. If it passes, as is expected, California will be the first state in the country to require that its universities give credit for courses that online providers offer—including for MOOCs offered by private companies unaffiliated with any university.

The bill will not only expand educational access, but will also control costs. Under the current system, an incredible number of Californian students in large state schools are forced to spend extra semesters or even years as undergrads:

According to Senator Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, the state’s 112 community colleges each had an average of 7,000 enrolled students who were on waiting lists, and at the 420,000-student, 23-campus California State University, only 16 percent of students graduate within four years, in part because of the difficulty in getting the courses they need.

Eliminating this inefficiency is just one way online ed could help reduce the exploding costs of higher ed. But the biggest benefit of this kind of policy may not be just it’s cost-saving potential. Over at Slate Matthew Yglesias comments on the role partnerships between online ed and traditional higher ed could play in improving the quality of education:

Nobody really thinks of very large introductory lecture courses as being the finest that American higher education has to offer. New technology that can supplant them could save some money but also holds out the promise of letting the people involved in the university system focus on what they think of as their best and most important work. Until now, the way this bifurcation has worked is by having online education simply compete with the lowest-quality traditional institutions. But we don’t really need more cost-effective ways to deliver low-quality education in America, we need better ways to deliver higher-quality education. If California can actually integrate technology to displace some of the low-end functions of high-end institutions, then we’ll really be getting somewhere.

Online ed can eliminate the flabby aspects of top universities, free up students and professors to devote more time and energy to the most interesting coursework, and create a market for new educational tech companies. In short, make America’s future brighter and more prosperous. When even the blue states can see this, that future may be closer than we realize.

Just as deep blue cities like Washington DC and New Orleans are leading the way in charter schools, blue states like California will be leaders in higher ed reform. The reason is non-partisan: money. The old ways of doing things are so expensive and cumbersome that, ideology, teacher unions and the AAUP aside, even deep blue states and cities recognize the need for change.

This is a good thing; budget discipline forces people to think and to innovate. There will be plenty of hiccups along the way, but ultimately we are going to have a system that costs less and does more. Via Meadia is pleased.

[Image of Online Diploma from Shutterstock]

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