California online university saved from legislative shutdown

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Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media

When the California legislature passed the state’s 2021-2022 budget last month, lawmakers voted to fund Calbright College, the state’s only fully digital community college.

However, after negotiations with Governor Gavin Newsom, funding for the college was restored. But Senate Bill 129, the budget bill Newsom signed on July 12, contains language saying any legislation passed that eliminates the college would be binding.

Calbright College is the 115th community college in California and is currently free. The idea of ​​a community college offering statewide only online programs was the brainchild of former Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. He believed that the increased availability of courses in online would make college more accessible and affordable for working adults.

He envisioned it as another public option for Californians between the ages of 25 and 34 that would help them improve their professional skills and allow them to gain certifications to access higher paying jobs that did not require a college degree.

African American students are overrepresented in Calbright’s student body. About 23 percent of its students are black. In the state’s traditional community colleges, African Americans make up only 5.9% of students.

Black students are also overrepresented in for-profit institutions in the state, where they make up 18% of students. These institutions can cost up to nine times more per unit than a community college. Students are taking on more debt and student loan default rates are higher. Course completion rates for students at these institutions are among the lowest.

When the legislature passed the California Online Community College Act in 2018, Calbright was given seven years – from July 2018 to June 2025 – to create a portfolio of programs and a supportive infrastructure for mature students seeking to improve their work. and their financial situation. The law earmarked $ 100 million of public funds for start-up costs, and initially around $ 20 million per year was allocated for operating expenses.

Currently, Calbright offers four free programs for California residents: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Platform Administration (Salesforce Admin), IT Support (A +), Cybersecurity (Security +), and Medical Coding for Professional Services.

These are skill-based education programs that adapt to your pace and are not constrained by academic calendars like traditional community colleges. Upon completion, students can take an industry-recognized exam for a certificate of competency that would qualify them for jobs in their field of study.

For Calbright supporters, including Brown, Newsom, Chancellor of California Community Colleges (CCC) Eloy Ortiz Oakley, and the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, the college has the potential to become the public solution to costly predatory for-profit institutions. that target adults and paid workers and overwhelm them with excessive student loan debt.

Since its inception, Calbright has had distractors. Much of his opposition comes from the Community College Teachers Union. Critics, including many lawmakers, argue that Calbright programs duplicate those offered at traditional community colleges and that the millions of dollars allocated to them would be better spent by the state’s underfunded community colleges.

Although Calbright began offering programs in October 2019, in February 2020, critics requested a legislative audit to assess its progress in creating online programs, enrolling students, building relationships with employers. and collaboration with other community colleges.

The results of the audit, which cost the state more than $ 300,000, were released in May 2021. In the letter accompanying Calbright’s audit report, California State Auditor Elaine Howle , revealed “He is late in accomplishing key milestones and must act quickly to demonstrate his ability to accomplish his mission.”

She explained, “One of the main reasons Calbright’s progress is not on track is that its former management team failed to develop and execute effective strategies to launch the college. Howle also said that many of Calbright’s executives left in his first year due to leadership failures. “Calbright struggled to properly enroll the students she was supposed to serve, took longer than it should have to develop a student support system, and failed to partner properly with employers. in the development of its educational programs, ”she added.

But, the audit also pointed out that Calbright’s new management has taken action to address the shortcomings that were discovered. Currently, Calbright offers African American students a tuition-free alternative to earn new professional skills certificates. Unlike students who take courses at for-profit colleges, Calbright students who fail to obtain the degrees they seek are not severely penalized financially.

Calbright’s critics rebuffed Howle’s assessment that “Calbright’s potential value to the state is significant.” They also failed to acknowledge that their most repeated complaint against the college is disputed in the audit’s conclusion that “Calbright’s pathways do not duplicate other programs we reviewed.”

In February 2021, ahead of the publication of the Legislative Audit Report, Assembly Bill 1432, an act to render Calbright inoperative at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year, was introduced by the member of Assembly Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) and co-authored by Congressman José Medina (D-Riverside).

On May 6, before the publication of the audit report, the Assembly unanimously adopted AB 1432 (71-0). The bill was sent to the Senate for approval, but the Senate Education Committee decided not to hear it at its July 14 meeting. It killed any chance that the bill would pass this year. No comment was provided by committee chair Senator Connie M. Leyva (D – Chino) when California Black Media asked why the bill had not been heard.

According to the budget deal that Newsom accepted, if AB 1432 had been approved by the Senate, Calbright would be shut down. Although Calbright survived this year’s legislative attempt to shut it down, those who oppose it have not given up. They stress that Calbright executives must complete their mission according to the schedule set out in the audit report and meet the milestones set by the legislature when the college was created. “We need to see substantial progress for Calbright to earn our trust and show that it was not a wasteful experiment at the expense of California taxpayers,” Low said.


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