Dive Brief:

  • Calbright, California’s fledgling online community college, will be funded for the upcoming fiscal year, according to the budget state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to Monday. 
  • However, the college will lose about $45 million in funding, most of which is from a one-time allocation, EdSource reported. Lawmakers could vote as early as Friday.
  • The decision comes about two weeks after a state Assembly report called for defunding the experimental program. The college launched last fall.

Dive Insight:

Calbright thanked Newsom and California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley for their support in a tweet Monday. The pair had reportedly backed the idea of continuing to fund the college, an initiative of former Gov. Jerry Brown.

The college’s critics say it duplicates offerings at the state’s 114 other community colleges and that it has been slow to graduate students. 

Calbright defended its role in the system in a statement on its website Monday.

“We are entering a period in higher education when we simply have to experiment to figure out what works,” it explains. “It’s going to be hard, but if we don’t do it now, current events strongly suggest we’ll have to do it later when it will be even harder.”

In their proposal to defund Calbright, state lawmakers called for the college’s trustees to develop a plan by the end of the calendar year for closing the institution. And some funds from the college would have been redirected to help the system’s other colleges address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

California isn’t the only state looking to expand its public online education options for residents, particularly nontraditional students. They face strong competition from online for-profits as well as private nonprofit universities with large online footprints.

Last week, the University of Massachusetts became the latest public higher education system to take steps to increase its online footprint. It plans to partner with Brandman University, a private nonprofit institution, to expand its offerings for adult learners. A few years ago Purdue University bought its way into an online college for adult learners by acquiring Kaplan University. 

Those arrangements are alternatives to Calbright’s homegrown approach to developing an all-online operation. 

In addition to funding Calbright, the agreed-upon budget gives the state’s community colleges $20 million to expand online and digital learning across the system. Nearly $23 million is allocated for programs that meet state workforce development needs.

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