Dear Senator Steinberg,
We, the undersigned faculty of the University of California, write to express our many, deep concerns about SB 520, as recently amended. We believe that this bill will lower academic standards (particularly in key skills such as writing, math, and basic analysis), augment the educational divide along socio-economic lines, and diminish the ability for underrepresented minorities to excel in higher education. In other words, we predict that SB 520 would worsen precisely the situation it claims to resolve.
The research on MOOCs demonstrates that on line courses suffer from high dropout rates, poor outcomes for students struggling with basic skills, and high cheating rates (see Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, “Adaptability to Online Learning:
Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas.” Community College Research Center, Teachers College Columbia University, February 2013). This research also indicates that MOOCs produce the worst outcomes for exactly those students they would most likely serve — students from less wealthy families. None of these unfortunate realities square with your hope for high-quality, wide-access education.
The best way for the California legislature to ensure that college students can take the courses they need to graduate on time (a goal we endorse whole-heartedly) would be to increase funding to its universities and colleges to ensure there are enough seats in classes students need. SB 520 funnels public money into the hands of private corporations – some of whom are currently under federal investigation.
This bill fails to address the complex challenge of ensuring that credit will be given only for courses that meet the high standards of California’s many institutions of higher education. The UC campuses already have timely mechanisms in place to ensure transfer credits from a variety of sources. Your bill will undermine essential quality controls that ensure appropriate preparation for college-level work. Without these, students will fail to succeed in their majors or to thrive academically after they transfer into to a CSU or UC campus from the community colleges.
In short, SB 520 is deeply flawed. We believe it will worsen the conditions you say you hope it will ameliorate. We urge you to consult with UC, CSU, and CCC faculty and other experts to enlist their help in devising a well-designed piece of legislation that will truly help students, while protecting the quality of the education they have the right to expect – and that we, as University of California faculty, have the duty to provide them.