I’m running out to teach, but you really do need to read this NY Times piece on a bill that’s going to be introduced in the California state legislature today … and is expected to pass. The bill would require the state’s public colleges and universities to grant academic credit to online courses not provided by those institutions, including those offered by for-profite private companies.
For-profit higher education in the United States has long depended on public money — providers make most of their revenue from government grants and guaranteed loans. But the industry has been on the ropes recently as policymakers and students have woken up to the shoddy education and poor outcomes they provide.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this story is the endlessly repeated claim that the bill will give students the ability to register for crucial classes. “No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” says one politician. “It’s almost unthinkable that so many students seeking to attend the public colleges and universities are shut out,” says the president of the American Council on Education.
But allowing students to substitute MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by for-profit companies doesn’t give them access to the courses they’re locked out of. It provides a substitute for those classes — a simulation of them. And given that the reason that those classes aren’t available is that the state of California has chosen to defund public higher education, diverting more money from the state’s once-great public colleges into the pockets of discredited corporate rent-seekers is a mind-bogglingly audacious act.
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Two more things before I go to class.
First, on this, from the founder of a for-profit online course provider:
“This would be a big change, acknowledging that colleges aren’t the only ones who can offer college courses,” said Burck Smith, the founder of Straighterline. “It means rethinking what a college is.”
This quote can almost pass without comment, but in fact Smith is underselling here. Because this bill isn’t about whether “colleges” are “the only ones who can offer college courses,” it’s about whether public colleges will be the only ones providing public college courses.
Second, on this, from the president of the American Council on Education:
“These would be the basic courses that perhaps faculty gets the least psychic reward from teaching.”
For many of us, introductory courses are where we get the greatest psychic rewards from teaching. (For many of us who love teaching, in fact, introductory courses are pretty much all we teach.) And when those introductory courses provide few psychic rewards, it’s not because those subjects or those students aren’t rewarding, it’s because the demands of the bean-counters have rendered those courses unteachable in any appropriate way. For the president of the ACE to abandon those courses, those professors, and those students to YouTube and multiple-choice exams with such disdain is a travesty.