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Jon Wiener: For-Profit Fiasco: California Public Colleges Turn to Web Courses

Jon Wiener is an historian who teaches at UC Irvine, and a contributing editor to The Nation.

Here’s how California treats its public colleges and universities: first, cut public funds, and thus classes; then wait for over-enrollment, as students are unable to get the classes they need to graduate; finally, shift classes online, for profit. That’s the way Laila Lalami, UC Riverside creative writing professor, explained it in a recent tweet, and that’s pretty much the whole story behind the bill introduced this week by the Democratic leader of the state senate, Darrell Steinberg. His bill requires California’s community colleges, along with the 23 Cal State schools and the ten-campus university, to allow students to substitute online courses for required courses taught by faculty members. The key to the proposal: the online courses will be offered by profit-making companies.

Steinberg argues, correctly, that the state’s colleges and universities have an obligation to offer the courses they require for graduation. Right now hundreds of thousands of students are prevented from graduating on schedule because they can’t get into required lower division courses. That’s shameful, and intolerable. But it’s a crisis created by the legislature, when it cut hundreds of millions from the state’s higher education budget over the last few years.

Advocates of the new plan downplay the for-profit aspect and emphasize instead that they want to “mobilize technology” to “help students achieve their dreams.” But the National Review Online rightly emphasized the key element of the plan (while providing their own ideological spin): the proposal will “break the higher education cartel” by bringing in profit-making corporations with a different “business model.”...

Read entire article at The Nation