The University of California Office of the President is making a $6.9 million gamble on an online education program.
This massive loan also means that the UC Online Instruction Pilot Project is no longer strictly an educational proposal, it is a business plan ““ UCOP now has its own money riding on how well the project does financially.
Even worse, it appears to be a bad business plan, considering that the Office of the President was supposed to raise $7 million in outside investments but has received only one grant of $748,000.
That the project as a concept failed to attract investors makes this an especially risky venture for the UC. If UCOP really wants to do this, it should wait until they have the full investment.
Supporters have said this plan is meant to increase access while maintaining quality. But if UCOP wants to increase access, why don’t they just loan the money directly to students? Seven million dollars could keep roughly 700 students in school for a year.
Such an emphasis on making money could be problematic for an educational venture like the Pilot Project anyway, especially for a plan that was misguided to begin with. This is not the time for UCOP to invest heavily in a project that is not guaranteed to improve educational opportunities for students.
Although the Internet is an invaluable tool for supplementing classroom learning, it is unlikely that online classes will provide as fulfilling an instructional environment on their own.
Proponents of the Pilot Project have argued that the online classes will mirror their in-person counterparts and be taught by UC faculty, but it is naive to assume students will attain the same level of engagement without the physical element.
Students notice this problem when they skip class with the intention of listening to a podcasted lecture. It is hard enough to actually set aside the time, let alone get a full educational experience without being in the classroom.
The state’s financial crisis has and will continue to harm the university in serious ways. Some of the repercussions ““ such as larger classes and furloughs ““ have already begun to degrade the quality of a UC education. – Protecting the core purpose of these schools must always be the administration’s priority, and a botched foray into online coursework does not bode well for that mission.
Instead, universities should focus their attention and resources on students, ensuring that the UC still provides a top-notch college education in spite of budget cuts. Gambling dwindling funds on a program with a sketchy future is a bad idea.
Will online education work? Maybe it will. But UCOP shouldn’t front money on something nobody is sure about, especially now.
$6.9-million gamble on an online education program