Darrell Steinberg has made a splash with a proposal to make the 50 most oversubscribed lower division courses at California public colleges and universities available in online versions and potentially to allow outside vendors to provide those courses. Major newspapers across the nation have run stories on the Senate President pro Tem’s idea to “break the bottleneck” that keeps students from acquiring the credits they need to graduate on time. While Steinberg has not completely nailed down the language in his bill ​— ​SB 520 ​— ​it’s clear that his road to Sacramento goes through Santa Barbara.

If the bill ever makes it to the governor’s desk, it will have to get through the Assembly’s higher education committee, chaired by Das Williams, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura. Williams is still sitting on the sidelines. “It’s hard to tell a bill from a press conference,” he said, but he indicated that he is receptive to the idea of adding online offerings, noting that less than half of the state’s community college students graduate or transfer to a four-year university within six years and that fixing this problem will require non-fiscal solutions. “It’s the beginning of the discussion, and it’s an important discussion to have,” he said.

That discussion will include UCSB math professor Bill Jacob, who is vice chair of the UC Academic Senate. He and Chair Robert L. Powell of UC Davis have already begun their lobbying effort by distributing a letter that warns against the privatization of public universities and reaffirms the faculty’s jurisdiction over approving courses for credit. If community college courses, Jacob said via email, “are turned over to for-profit providers or MOOCs [massive open online courses] then we have a problem because we cannot assure their quality in the same way.” He met with Steinberg’s staff on Wednesday, after The Santa Barbara Independent’s print deadline.


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