Gov. Jerry Brown recently allocated $10 million in state funding toward a University of California online education program, sparking dissent and discussion among various UC faculty, students and university officials.
The UC Board of Regents’ plan to use the governor’s increased financial support to expand the initiative, which is viewed as a necessary technological addition to the University as well as a potential replacement for in-class courses. UCSB provides computerized education through complete online courses that offer students unit credit.
According to Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Nadim Houssain, many individuals view online educational programs as an inevitable progression within the world of higher education. However, Houssain said students must consider class divisions as a possible side effect of online courses.
“This is assuming that all students have access to computers and access to the Internet, both of which a significant amount of students just don’t have, especially among the lower class,” Houssain said. “You may start seeing a stratification of potential UC students along class lines … Lower-income students would have to opt for the online education options and higher-income students would be able to afford the in-class experience.”
In fact, Houssain said in-class involvement is essential to a UC education, as it provides a level of interaction that cannot be found in a computerized program.
“I think it is very necessary to have the in-class experience to be able to interact with the professor, to raise your hand, ask questions,” Houssain said.
However, Gov. Brown has continually shown faith in the potential success of online courses in the UC system, defending the program in spite of its occasional lack of popularity with students. While the courses are currently relatively expensive, costing $1400 to $2400 each, Brown said prices can be lowered and students can be successfully lured into taking these classes.
According to Brown, it is necessary the University adopt an online education program, as it not currently able to accommodate all incoming students through a traditional classroom setting.
“There’s all these students knocking on the door and you’re never going to get them through the brick and mortar,” Brown said. “See, with online, you can do that.”
External Co-chair and Commissioner of Academic Affairs Board Adeel Lakhani acknowledged the merit of online courses, but also said students must be careful with the classes.
“I think the professors have been very thoughtful in making sure that [the courses have] quality. So I don’t think that just because something is online, it is inherently bad,” Lakhani said. “But I do think that we definitely should be very careful to make sure that the entire experience of taking the course is comparable.”
While professors directing the online movement seek to ensure student interests are prioritized, Houssain said he worries the profit motives of the UC Regents conflict with that ideal.
“The UC Regents see [online courses] as a source to generate revenue, so it’s a profit-driven enterprise,” Houssain said. “On the East Coast, Ivy Leagues like Harvard and MIT have opened up online education, but it’s free … There’s something important about providing that free online education rather than charging.”
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of March 6th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.