This summer, California Federation of Teachers (CFT) President Jeff Freitas and CFT Community College Council President Jim Mahler testified before the Board of Trustees of California’s online-only community college. In that testimony (and in an accompanying letter), Freitas and Mahler shared CFT’s ongoing concerns with the launching of the college. The purpose of the testimony was to inform the board that if the college does not conform to all aspects under which it was intended to operate, CFT will take legal action to protect existing community colleges.
More specifically, Freitas and Mahler informed the Board of Governors that CFT has five central concerns with the Online College:
- The Online College is duplicative of existing programs, in direct violation of the California Education Code. CFT Research Director Joanna Valentine found that the initial three core curricular programs being developed by the college (Medical Coding, Information Technology, and Cyber Security) already exist in a minimum of 15 examples in established colleges. Also in violation of the Education Code, CFT believes that the chancellor’s office failed to notify the Legislature and Department of Finance about the duplicative offerings. Thus, rather than serving a new group of students that existing colleges have failed to reach, the new college appears to be looking to compete with existing colleges for the same students.
- The Online College is a diversion of critical taxpayer resources, coming at the expense of other current initiatives and programs, including all of the current Online CTE Pathways. When existing colleges are already struggling with finances, this diversion of resources is counterproductive at best.
- The Online College is recruiting students from other districts, in direct violation of the CA Education Code. Media reports indicate that Online College President Heather Hiles stated the mission of the college would be changing to include face-to-face meetings. When confronted about the apparent conflict, attorneys for the Chancellor’s office essentially indicated that that portion of the Education Code did not apply. CFT believes it does and the new online college needs to play by the rules.
- The Online College isn’t informing potential students regarding the implications of taking courses prior to the college’s accreditation. The online college is failing to comply with the legal requirements for transparency regarding their accreditation status. Just as accreditation issues at other suspect institutions have sidetracked many students’ academic careers, this new venture has the potential to do the same. California community college students deserve to know exactly what they are getting into when they enroll in this new online-only college.
- The Online College hasn’t demonstrated that they have met several critical expectations as they were required to do so by July 1, 2019 deadline. This includes developing a seven-year implementation, developing internal business processes and personnel policies, mapping the student experience, developing an accreditation plan, creating a statewide outreach plan, among others. Not meeting key standards straight out of the gate is not a good sign for this new institution.
The bottom line here is that unless the Online College gets its house in order, the CFT will initiate legal proceedings to protect the existing community colleges in this state so that they can continue to provide the best education for the students in their communities. Freitas’ and Mahler’s testimony came in the wake of CFT’s vote of No Confidence in California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley last May and signals CFT’s ongoing commitment to contesting the wrong-headed initiatives coming out of his office. As of this writing, legal action is pending.