Calbright College, California’s Online Community College, May Close!

Dear Commons Community,

Calbright College, California’s fully online community college may close if the State Legislature has its way.  Last week, California’s Assembly and Senate leaders moved to eliminate the college while officials from Governor Gavin Newsom’s office and the Community College’s Chancellor’s Office indicated that Calbright should remain open.  The college, which opened in October, has faced criticism and courted controversy since it was first proposed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The college was seen as a bold initiative to serve adult and underemployed populations of students working part time or stuck in positions that don’t pay a living wage. The college presently enrolls 523 students.  The Legislature has already reached an agreement on the state budget that includes defunding Calbright and redirecting more than $100 million to support other needs in the 115-campus community college system.   As reported by  EdSource.

“I want to see the most bang for our buck, and we certainly weren’t getting that from Calbright,” said Assemblyman Jose Medina, who is chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “And given the economic crisis from the coronavirus, the state doesn’t have the money. It’s time to shut that program down completely … The money saved can be better used in other places.”

A Legislative Analyst’s report on the May budget revision estimated that eliminating Calbright would save about $137 million, including $20 million in operating costs for next year and taking back $117 million in unspent funds. The study called for Calbright’s abolishment and noted it “has a very high cost per student, is currently unaccredited and largely duplicates programs at other colleges.”

H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for Governor Newsom’s Department of Finance, said that while the Legislature has reached an agreement, discussions will continue with the governor’s office on a range of budget issues.

“The May revision reflects continued funding for Calbright, which is well-positioned to provide students searching for additional opportunities to improve their economic mobility through self-paced programs that can enable students to quickly earn industry-recognized credentials,” Palmer said. “The importance of distance learning opportunities in the current Covid-19 environment makes an even more compelling case for continuing support.”

According to an Assembly report on the proposed budget, Calbright’s board of trustees would have to develop a closure plan by December.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said eliminating Calbright from the state’s budget is “shortsighted.”

“I appreciate the pickle and the challenge the Legislature finds itself in,” he said, to EdSource’s This Week in California Education podcast.

“I don’t believe that it is wise to cannibalize one college to support the others. It’s important for us as a state to see the importance of having all of the colleges supported while understanding that they all have to be cut.”

Oakley said Calbright can help the state understand how it “can change the way we deliver education, particularly to working adults. Given that we have nearly 5 million or so unemployed Californians, I think it’s critically important.”

Taylor Huckaby, a spokesman for the college, said Calbright is part of Newsom’s initiative for expanding skill-based training, especially now as economic conditions worsen.

“To shutter a school with this specific mission – to reach people who are not currently being served – would be a mistake,” he said. “The actions we take now will either undermine our recovery or ensure it.”

Calbright’s critics, however, believe that reallocating money from the online college to the other 114 community colleges would better serve the state’s economy and help more adults and non-traditional students looking for these programs.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  There are major political bodies on each side of the controversy.  Calbright surely was a bold move when it was proposed three years ago but in the current fiscal crisis that California (and many states find themselves), it might not survive.


NOTE:  My colleague, Fred Lane, alerted me to this Calbright College story.

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