Soon You Could Attend the Cyber University of California

We've discussed the financial straits that are crippling college campuses all over our country, with schools exploring three-year degrees and jacking tuition through the ceiling. The University of California is now exploring the idea of offering online degree programs, cyber-versions of the classes taught at the top state university system in the country.

It's been tried at the University of Illinois and at the University of Massachusetts. (It failed at the former and has been a success at the latter.) Stanford awards graduate engineering degrees to online students, so it can't be all that bad, right?

Well, in order to succeed, as pointed out in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the administration needs the support of its faculty. And, according to an Op-Ed in that same paper today, it may not have it.

A small group of Berkeley professors write:

Most of the discussion about online education has come from administrators who are far removed from the experience of teaching and thus the logistics and consequent financial realities of moving courses and curricula online. UC has hundreds of superb teachers who have scarcely been consulted. However, it is obvious that it is teachers, not administrators, who should be the architects of this initiative, and at every step. These commonsense suggestions must be kept in mind as UC explores online learning. If not, the university runs the risk of destroying its reputation and excellence in the name of marketing a brand.

There is more that is a little irksome about the proposed offering of online degrees: Those who take them will have to pay the same tuition as students who are taking live instruction. Chad Aldeman, blogging over at Education Sectors The Quick and the Ed blog, labels this move as "balancing budgets off the backs of students."

The fact that online students and those using the physical campus will be paying the same seems silly in light of a study that came out of Northwestern University two weeks ago. It found that online courses don't teach students as well as live instruction. Is UC going about this the wrong way? And is there a way to make online degrees work? (Or, is the answer simply making them at least a little cheaper than traditional degrees?)

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