Log on, learn, transfer at an entirely online community college

By Michael Santone, Editor-In-Chief

The search for the first CEO of California’s landmark fully online educational institute has begun as its cyber doors prepare to open in the fall of 2019.
Wheless Partners Consulting and Executive Search is leading the search for the CEO of the newly established 115th California community college, the California Online College, with an application deadline of Nov. 15.
“To be successful, the new online college needs an energetic and innovative CEO,” California Community Colleges Board of Governors Vice President Tom Epstein said in an Oct. 2 press release.
“We are seeking candidates from industry and education with the skills and experience to bring the college rapidly from early stage development to scale.”
Responsibilities of the CEO will be to hire and develop a team to execute early business and operational plans necessary to launch three inaugural pilot pathways by the end of 2019.
These pilot pathways will lead the college’s vision and strategy to respond to California’s economic needs.
Contra Costa Community College District Executive Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said it is expected, once the CEO is on board by a January time frame, things will move more quickly in finalizing the details of the online college.
“Online offers access to education for working adults, those with transportation challenges and stay-at-home parents taking care of young ones. I believe providing opportunities for online learning is vital,” Mehdizadeh said.

Executive vice chancellor of education and technology

“I believe there is a strong need and desire by members of the public to obtain college credit that is transferable.”
Proposed by Governor Jerry Brown in the 2018-19 budget plan released in January, the California Online College will focus on short-term credential programs for careers in fields including advanced manufacturing, healthcare and child development.
An initial one-time investment of $100 million and a subsequent $20 million of continuous funding was allocated for the online community college.
The $120 million in funding is a fraction of the $78.3 billion earmarked for public schools and community colleges for 2018-19.
At the July California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting, Brown said, “I think it’s very important that the community colleges of California be in the forefront and are creating this framework that will serve people who are not being served. California is a leader. It will lead in this. And I say, ‘Hallelujah, let’s get going.”’
“Stranded” working adults, who feel displaced due to work and family obligations, transportation issues, emotional barriers or lack of credit from prior institutions is the online college’s target audience.
According to the 2017 California Community College data report, there are 2.5 million “stranded” men and women between the ages of 25 and 34 who have a high school diploma but no college degree.
Of those 2.5 million, 233,983 reside in San Francisco, 153,878 in Sacramento and 856,471 in Los Angeles.
In April, Contra Costa College along with 33 other colleges throughout the state joined the Online Education Initiative — as the demand for online courses grew.
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 more students are able to complete their educational goals.
Mehdizadeh said while the online community college is set to open in the fall of 2019, she doesn’t believe it will have any effect on progress OEI has made.
“I don’t believe that the Online College will undermine OEI as long as OEI continues to receive the needed state funding to support the ongoing work,” she said. “I believe there is a need for online education, which we are very successfully delivering already and will improve and expand upon through our partnership in OEI.”
The effect on face-to-face courses, however, is something that would need to be looked at over time, Mehdizadeh said.
“We will need to see what courses and programs the online college will offer,” she said. “I agree that the existing 114 community colleges would benefit from additional funding and other resources to grow online offerings.”
CCC United Faculty Vice President Jeffrey Michels said all faculty groups in the state opposed the California Online College.
“Certainly, the reaction of faculty was, and has been, that we don’t understand it,” Michels said.
“We think if we want to expand online education we can do it better and cheaper at our existing community colleges.”
Michels said in many ways the community colleges around the state are better equipped with providing distance education.
“If there’s a target population that we are not reaching — if there are what they call ‘stranded’ workers, or workers out there who need short-term certificates that we aren’t providing, there is nothing that would prevent our existing colleges from addressing that need,” he said. “In many ways, we think we are better situated to address it through our local community colleges rather than with a new centralized statewide community college.”
In the future, the likelihood of a new community college that’s totally online competing with existing offerings seems high, Michels said.
“You’re duplicating effort with the Online Education Initiative, which is meant to make it easier for students who are attending one college to take an online course offered at colleges throughout the state,” he said.
“I think the money invested in the online college could have been better invested in our colleges. As designed, there are a lot of fears that this is one more step toward centralizing authority at the Chancellor’s Office.”