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The Future of Online Education in Public Colleges

David Lesher June 26, 2014
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Policymakers and educators have a lot of questions these days about whether new communication technologies can be helpful in higher education. Will they lower the cost of teaching, provide access to those who are otherwise left out, or provide more effective individualized instruction? With encouragement from Sacramento, California’s three public higher education segments are pursuing new initiatives in online education. On Tuesday, PPIC hosted a lunch event on this topic.

Hans Johnson, PPIC Bren Fellow, talked about his recent study, co-authored with PPIC research associate Marisol Cuellar Mejia, about online education in the state’s community colleges. The study found that participation in online courses has soared in the last decade but that success rates—in terms of course completion and passing grades—are lower for online students.

An expert panel expanded the discussion, with Joseph Moreau, executive sponsor of the Online Education Initiative at the California Community Colleges; Ashley Skylar, quality assurance manager for academic technology services at the California State University; and Arnold Bloom, who teaches an online course in climate change at UC Davis. Panelists talked about efforts to improve the quality of online instruction—the course materials and training of instructors. They also said it is too soon to tell whether online education may save money, but the size of California’s higher education systems provides opportunities for collaboration among campuses, which may produce more cost-effective education.

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