California Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing online courses as one way for the state's universities to expand access to students and reduce student costs. And he's getting results.
A June 2012 phone call from the governor to Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and CEO of Udacity, sparked an agreement between the online course provider and San Jose State University that was announced on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
"That hour changed my life," Thrun said in a press conference.
The agreement sets up a pilot of three classes offered for credit to 300 students. Registration opened on Tuesday for the pre-algebra, college algebra and elementary statistics courses that will begin on Jan. 30. The courses will also be offered online without credit or charge to anyone who wants to join.
Five San Jose faculty members are the instructors of record and retain intellectual property rights to the classes they develop with Udacity. Mentors will support the students, and a National Science Foundation research grant will be used to study the effectiveness of these courses.
This is basically a research and development project to figure out the role of faculty, what technology can assist with, and whether students can learn and advance in this pilot, said Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University System. Then the system will figure out whether it can be scaled up while still maintaining the learning environment students need to be successful.
"Part of educating California's students today is to not only challenge them intellectually, but also to support them to succeed," White said.
In each class, 50 San Jose State students and 50 non-San Jose State students will pay $150 per person to earn college credit from the university for the course. A typical university course would cost about $450, with half paid by the student and half paid by the state, said San Jose State University President Mohammad Qayoumi in a press conference.
The university plans to give priority for the non-San Jose State slots to high school and community college students, as well as military members, veterans and waitlisted San Jose State students.
"Ultimately, we would like to build a high-quality, cost-efficient way to bring our curriculum to students anytime, anywhere, as soon as they are ready, whether they are in high school, community college, university or in the workplace," Qayoumi said.
With the billions of dollars that the state spends on schools, California has a right to get better results for itself and for students, Brown said. Sixty percent of California State University students go straight to remedial courses, and 70 percent fail math and English entry tests at the community college level.
And as the nation's older population dwarfs that of the school and work force population, the next generation of students will have to be smarter.
"If we can't invent and create and mobilize and pull together in a much more effective way than we have hitherto, we'll be in trouble," Brown said. "And I did come back here to avoid some troubles, and I think [this pilot] is not the only step, but it is a very significant step in handling this overall global problem that we ignore at our peril."
This is just one of a number of efforts Brown has been involved in to open access and cut costs for students and the state through online education.
An online learning summit last week brought together leaders from the legislature, state government and universities to talk about how online education could help handle higher education's affordability problem.
Separate meetings with the University of California and California State University leaders included online education discussions with Brown.
And the governor's proposed 2013-14 budget includes $10 million each for the University of California and California State University system to offer more undergraduate courses through technology. In particular, this extra funding would go to classes that have the highest demand and are prerequisite classes for many different degrees.