California LAO warns about growth of distance learning at public colleges

In a study issued Monday California’s independent Legislative Analyst’s Office warned about the growth of distance learning at public colleges.

Advocates of online and video-conferencing courses say the technology increases access and affordability to higher learning. Santa Monica College, Coastline College and Palo Verde College in Riverside offer the most distance learning classes among the state’s community colleges.

At some Cal State campuses one of every 10 students takes at least one course online. The University of California is set to launch a distance learning pilot program in the next few years.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says the quality of classes is comparable. But it notes that students who take online courses retain the material for a shorter length of time, and that’s a concern.

The report urges state lawmakers, like Assembly Higher Education Chair Marty Block, to set more guidelines for distance learning at public universities. "California has outstanding universities, UC, CSU, world class universities. Can that same level of excellence be maintained without student-student interaction, face-to-face, and student faculty interaction?" Block said.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends regular reporting on enrollment in these courses, and data on how well students are doing. Block also wants to study whether employers want students who’ve earned a large part or all of their college degrees by sitting in front of computers.

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