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For the third consecutive year, Calbright College, the state’s only online community college, faces a legislative attempt to shut it down for good.
“I have not seen anything that points toward progress,” said Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, author of Assembly Bill 2820, which would shut down the college. “I did have recent conversations with them, and I did see a small uptick in completion, but I’m still not positive.”
Medina said he’s disappointed that so few students are completing Calbright’s certificate programs. Only 70 completed a certificate by the end of 2021 when the college reported 748 enrolled students.
“That number is very low,” Medina said referring to the number of students who have completed certificates. “And there’s still a lot of students that have stopped out.”
Medina insists there are better uses for the millions of dollars the state gives to the college.
Calbright is a free, self-paced alternative to traditional colleges intended to serve adults between the ages of 25 and 34 who lack college degrees or need additional skills to qualify for higher-paying jobs. The college uses a competency-based education model that assesses students based on their skills and not the amount of time they spend in a class.
Medina’s bill would close the college by January 2024 and reallocate Calbright’s funding to basic need centers and student housing for the other 115 community colleges, with at least $5 million supporting students with dependent children. The bill doesn’t detail the amounts that would be reallocated to each area. The next step for the bill is an Assembly hearing by the Higher Education Committee, which Medina chairs.
By the end of this fiscal year, Calbright will have received $60 million in one-time funding and $15 million in ongoing dollars from the state.
As of Tuesday, Calbright reported its enrollment climbed to 1,010, up from 930 students as of February 2022, when nearly 66% of students were reported to be enrolled in information technology courses. Calbright started in October 2019 with more than 300 students with plans to maintain enrollment at about 400 students as it developed programming. Last year, the college began pushing for more students and saw enrollment increase from 590 students in November to 748 by the end of December.
Former employees have publicly raised questions to Calbright’s trustees about how active students are in the program.
For example, as of March 2, only 546 or 59% of enrolled students participated in a “substantive academic activity,” within the past 30 days, which could be taking a quiz, responding to discussion questions, completing a project, or any academic activity determined by an instructor. That percentage increases to 83% when expanded to 90 days.
After 180 days of inactivity, students are dropped from the college, although critics say that’s too long to carry a nonparticipating student.
Since Nov. 1, 155 students have dropped out of the college.
In a statement, the college said it is seeing progress, with 83% of students actively engaged in their program within the past 90 days.
“These early indicators suggest that Calbright is on the right track toward solving the complex equation of how to effectively champion this under-studied population of learners,” according to Calbright.
In a statement regarding Medina’s bill, a spokesman for the college said Calbright was given a seven-year startup timeline with defined goals, and it has “met or exceeded all the requirements the legislature set.”
“Calbright’s enrollment growth is paired with vastly improved support services designed to welcome students, empower them to utilize services like tutoring when they need help, and nurture their success at every stage of their journey,” according to a statement from the college.
Last year, legislative critics pushed a second attempt to shut down the college, but that bill languished in the Legislature and never saw a hearing. In 2020, the first attempt to shut down Calbright failed despite unanimously passing the Legislature after Gov. Gavin Newsom signaled his support for the college and former Gov. Jerry Brown, who first proposed Calbright, lobbied lawmakers to stick with it.
The college is deploying an outreach initiative to build relationships with students to prevent them from delaying their academic progress. They’re also developing a new licensed vocational nurse training program in partnership with the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West that the college expects will help to recruit even more students.
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