A look at California’s Virtual College Initiative: Blog 4

As technology continues to change so will higher education’s implementation of it. I view technology as a tool and believe that through its utilization can either provide or remove value to the education system. I am anticipating there will be plenty of blogs written about how the use of technology in the classroom or by students is disruptive to an educational environment and I do agree that improper use of technology can cause issues; however, I wanted to focus on some of the potential benefits that technology can provide.

One particular gap in the traditional system that I feel is especially impacted by technology is the ability to provide educational opportunities to non-traditional students; whether they be minorities, working adults, parents, or individuals negatively impacted by the way the global economy has shifted in recent decades. I found an article by Karin Fischer entitled “Can a Huge Online College Solve California’s Work-Force Problems?” particularly interesting (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-a-Huge-Online-College/244054).

Fischer’s piece highlights that California is trying to create a system that targets populations that are often left behind; these communities include “under- or unemployed adults who need new skills to land a job, secure a raise, nab a promotion, just to maintain a toehold in a swiftly changing workplace.” Fisher goes on to identify that there are roughly 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25-34 without a post-secondary degree that could significantly benefit from having access to a virtual college. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, believes that the only way to allow the worlds firth largest economy to continue to grow is to bridge these educational gaps for working age Californians and views online college as an integral pillar to achieving this goal.

Online colleges largely provide accessibility to individuals that struggle to matriculate into ‘conventional’ institutions of higher education, and California is actively working toward creating one that can pull from over 7,000 courses taught in the greater UC system. Admittedly, online courses are not without their flaws as students typically do better in face to face systems. There is also a fear that virtual classes will take students from the conventional system causing unforeseen impacts to higher education as a whole.

Interestingly enough, the proposed online college hopes to combat competition with degree based institutions by developing courses and programs that only provide certifications for skills enhancement and/or job advancement, not degrees. In this same vein, their program is working directly with labor unions and employers to tailor their online programs to ensure students increase their potential for career advancement. Personally, I feel that trade schools and skills development is an important aspect of higher education that is often forgotten about and online education seems like it can assist in the required specialization of our national workforce by providing accessibility to additional trainings and certifications.

When I first started thinking about online colleges/courses I thought about it through the context of my own experience in Engineering and a four-year University. I failed to consider using online college for skills enhancement, and certification in the work place and feel that it could be very powerful. I imagine there are limitations, as certain specializations likely require hands on evaluations, but maybe this can/will become less of a barrier with advancements in VR (virtual reality) technologies.

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