College joins online learning initiative

By Anthony Kinney, Associate Editor

With the demand of online courses growing throughout the state, Contra Costa College moves to do its part to provide California community college students with a universal online alternative to the traditional classroom setting.

CCC was one of 33 community colleges selected to join the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative 2018 online equity cohort.

The program is purposed with helping close the state’s growing academic achievement gap by collaborating to ease the process of enrolling in digital classrooms.

According to its website, the Online Education Initiative (OEI) is a collaborative effort among California Community Colleges to ensure that more students are able to complete their educational goals.

Distance Education Coordinator Judy Flum said joining the cohort will promote CCC’s progression into a more technology based academic to ease the inconvenience of attending a traditional course.

She said recent state-funded research found it takes today’s average community college student seven years to earn their associate degree due to life complications affecting their ability to pursue their education uninterrupted.

The program hopes to increase both access to and success in high-quality online courses.

However, the OEI’s online equity cohort goes a step further. Its purpose is to support member colleges of OEI through the process of identifying and examining instruction and institutional policies and practices that impact the online equity gap among California’s diverse student population.

It also hopes to increase the degree completion rates of minorities, women and students from low-income families.

The new list of colleges including CCC and sister college Diablo Valley, will join the 23 current colleges already participating in the state’s online education consortium.

The OEI is California’s innovative strategy to expand access to online, or “distance education” in an effort to reverse this alarming trend.

“One of the biggest problems our students often face is finding the right set of courses to fit in with their work schedules or other responsibilities, like child care,” Flum said.

“We’re working on a system that will provide online students with high-quality courses along with the same dedicated faculty and counselor support traditional students are offered on campus.”

One of the initiative’s main components is the OEI course exchange which provides a seamless pathway for students to register for online courses offered by member colleges — without requiring them to complete separate college entry applications.

Flum said as the state’s community colleges shift to convert more in-person classes into online classes, the OEI course exchange allows the students of member colleges to enroll in the online courses offered by other participating institutions when they can’t find or enroll in a particular course at their home college.

“For those classes that we have enrollment issues with, we could offer five or 10 seats online with the intention of gaining more FTES (full-time equivalent students). And on the other hand, that student who couldn’t get that course at their local college can find it on the exchange and finish their degree,” Flum said.

CCC Librarian Adoria Williams said OEI provides convenience and ease to the growing number of students who can’t attend the traditional classroom environment because of work or family obligations.

Business administration major Mona Serrano said she got excited when she heard about the initiative and California’s apparent push to supply students with a larger catalog of online courses.

She said she had to enroll in multiple online courses over her educational journey because her work schedule conflicted with the courses she needed for her degree.

“I think it’s going to be extremely beneficial for the entire state. With work and kids, it can be hard for some folks to find the time to focus full time on their education,” she said.

“But with more online courses to choose from, students have a better chance of finding that class they need without worrying about if they can make it to its meeting time or not.”

Williams, who teaches online courses at CCC and Merritt College, said expansion into the digital realm all boils down to accessibility.

“To be able to login and purse your education from basically anywhere is a such a great thing for our busy society,” she said. “I think we’re really blessed to be a part of the transition that’s happening in the education field right now.”

“Our state is moving toward the future of education and it’s so great to see it move in collective effort that is beneficial for our students.”

The college plans to use next year to prepare its online course curriculum for OEI review and approval. Administrators plan to add several courses to the exchange for the fall 2019 semester.