In February, California Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg introduced a bill that would open the door for massive open online courses (MOOCs), such as Coursera and Udacity, to offer courses for credit to public college and university students in the state. Since its introduction, Senate Bill 520 (SB 520) has generated significant controversy, and apetition by the Berkeley Faculty Association opposing the bill has collected more than 1,500 signatures.
The goal of SB 520 is to help more students squeeze through the bottleneck of gateway courses required for their programs, a problem that is particularly bad at California Community Colleges (CCC), where 85 percent of courses in fall 2012 had wait lists, according to information from Senator Steinberg's office. Students in the University of California (UC) andCalifornia State University (CSU) systems are having similar problems, and only 60 percent of UC students and 16 percent of CSU students can complete their degree programs in four years, primarily because they can't get access to key courses required for their programs.
When there isn't enough space in required courses, many students are forced to enroll in courses unnecessary for their program, just so they can retain the full-time student status required for financial aid. As a result, students are taking longer to complete their degrees and racking up higher levels of student debt.
The Proposed Solution
To alleviate the lack of access to gateway courses, Senator Steinberg proposed to allow online education providers to grant credit for equivalent courses, within specified guidelines. The bill limits the online credit courses to a maximum of 50 of the most oversubscribed courses required for program completion, fulfilling transfer requirements, or meeting general education requirements. Credit for the approved online courses would be restricted to CCC, CSU, UC, and California high school students.