California, MOOCs and the Future of CUNY
In March, a bill was introduced in the California State Senate that, if passed, could radically redefine the role of online learning in American higher education. The proposed legislation, SB 520, would require state colleges and universities to grant credit to students who, unable to register for core classes at their home universities due to “bottleneck” conditions at the entry level, opt to register for massive open online courses (MOOCs) instead.
The bill is packaged by its champions as a necessary measure designed to defend the best interests of a student body under siege. “We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise,” said Darrell Steinberg, the State Senate president. “No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed.” Detractors, however, attack it as a top-down effort to allow private companies to profit from public institutions of higher learning—what some have labeled the University of Phoenixization of the U Cal system.
Whatever the outcome, this bill has direct implications for the City University of New York (CUNY) as well as other public universities nationwide. The debate in California arrives during a period in which CUNY’s public system has come under great strain from rolling budget cuts, privatization measures and major battles between administrators and faculty over curricular decision-making and control. The potential embrace of MOOCs could well contribute to further contention.