- California plans to open its first online-only community college Oct. 1, but doubts are growing over whether the state can launch the venture with just five months remaining, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- The college, which hasn't yet been named, aims to provide low-income workers with free education that puts them on track to a better career. But with only a few months to hire key executives, some recruiters say the time crunch could lead to quality concerns.
- Other remaining tasks include setting up online programs in cybersecurity, information technology and medical coding; drafting policies for personnel; receiving accreditation; and crafting a statewide student outreach strategy.
The virtual college was borne from former California Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to upskill the millions of state residents who lack a degree or credential.
But questions remain over whether the pioneering effort will pay off for the state. For one, the forthcoming college will only offer short-term credentials like certificates, even though bachelor's degrees more often lead to "good jobs," or those which pay at least $35,000. And some doubt the targeted audience — adult students, who often are juggling job and family responsibilities — will excel in online-only programs, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes.
The college also has felt pushback from those concerned about its impact on California's existing 114 community colleges. In an interview with The Chronicle earlier this year, Heather Hiles, the online college's CEO, said there will be opportunities for the institution to help share curricula across the state's two-year system.
However, the aggressive timeline doesn't help to raise confidence in the venture, and the state-mandated deadlines can't be pushed back, the San Francisco Chronicle notes.
The college is slowly growing its team. So far those hires include Hiles, who previously worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founded the edtech company Pathbrite, and several faculty consultants who are helping to build out the online framework, Inside Higher Ed reported.
Other key hires have proven controversial. A consulting firm run by Carolyn Carpeneti, a former political fundraiser, was brought on as the executive recruiter under a no-bid contract. Several board members took issue with the hire, arguing it should have been put out to a competitive bid, CALmatters reported. However, Hiles defended the move, calling Carpeneti "far and away the best qualified."
California is among several states making big moves in online education. The University of Massachusetts System announced earlier this year it will launch an online-only college for working adults in an effort to stave off enrollment declines in New England. And the State University of New York (SUNY) System last year put out a request for information to grow its online footprint within and beyond New York.
As more colleges expand their online offerings, they face difficult decisions over whether they will build their own programs or partner with an online program manager (OPM), which can help get programs off the ground without a large upfront investment.