Cal State Online: Implications for CUNY

This past week saw a major announcement from California State University (CSU) concerning online learning (link to story).  That university is moving forward with plans to create a “centralized online learning hub” or gateway portal for online courses at their 23 campuses. The article (which I encourage all the read) goes on to give some parameters for this online portal plan including:

  • Program goal of extending course offerings to address increased student demand for, and access to, education
  • Central administration of online programs to facilitate program sharing and student cross-campus enrollment in courses
  • Agreement to keep in force all faculty/union agreements and governance structures
  • “In-house” CSU faculty will be responsible for developing and teaching online courses for which faculty will receive additional compensation for online development
  • Quality standards and the program approval process will “meet or exceed” current ones in place for existing programs
  • Program buy-in and participation from each campus is optional (at the discretion of each campus)
  •  Eight-week terms to be introduced to parallel traditional academic schedule
  • Online course development will be considered in future tenure and promotion decisions.

The article notes that faculty skepticism and resistance to this new plan is prevalent and, as such, any online program will need to win over reluctant faculty to this mode of teaching.

CUNY Parallel 

Each university system has its own mission, structures, target student base and learning environments.  Yet, with that said, the parallels to CUNY are quite obvious.

  • Both universities are large public institutions (CSU with 450K students, CUNY with 250K students).
  • Both institutions have been slow to adapt their academic programs to online teaching.
  • Both universities have strong faculty unions and a large base of tenured faculty.
  • Both universities have a largely decentralized structure whereby academic decisions are made on a per-campus basis, which hinders university-wide initiatives such as online learning.
  • Both universities are operating in financially difficult environments (dire in the case of CSU) and have been hard-pressed to address even their local potential student demands given the constraints of existing brick and mortar capacity.

Implications for CUNY

The steps that California State University are taking, however tentative and accommodating, point to real steps that CUNY can explore. It may only be a few years off that CUNY is faced with the draconian cuts that the public California systems have been forced to deal with. Top administrators at both large university systems in California have reached similar conclusions, namely, online learning is a legitimate, viable, academically sound, and potentially cost-saving approach to addressing the academic needs in the 21st century.

CUNY, in contrast to the University of California and California State University, will have some more time in terms of financial imperatives, to properly plan for online learning.  I would suggest that rather than wait for the financial storm to arrive, that we build toward a future where online programs and courses can start to seriously serve our community of learners.  What steps would be needed for such planning? As suggested in previous blog entries, I would advocate:

  • Online learning be prominently featured in the new CUNY five-year strategic plan and it be stated that “online learning is consistent with the goals, mission and strategy” of this institution (my blog post)
  • The recognition that online learning is a strategic asset to the university that needs to be properly managed and fostered (my blog post)
  • A university-wide committee for online learning be formed to review best practices in online, strategic planning for online, and assist campuses in online development
  • A university-wide online portal to be developed to facilitate student access to online courses at all CUNY campuses
  •  A review of tenure and promotion criteria to reward innovative uses of technology and online course development (upcoming blog post)
  • A review of existing contractual arrangements to address online teaching for both a faculty and administrators
  • A CUNY central office of online and hybrid learning be formed to address policy issues and support campus implementation of online learning (my blog post).

It is my hope that this major CSU announcement will be heard by all CUNY stakeholders concerned with affordable, accessible, and quality education for our current and future students. Like CSU, we will soon find ourselves at a crossroad that many public universities have already explored successfully.  Will we have the vision, courage and integrity to work together and forge the online path for CUNY?


Kolowich, Steve, “Cal State’s Online Plan,” Inside Higher Education, March 5, 2012

Website link: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/03/05/california-state-rolls-out-plan-centralized-online-learning-portal

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