Calbright College

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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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  1. Bryant Daron 5 months ago5 months ago

    The reason this college is failing is because it is not a real college. It provides no unique value to students that YouTube videos, Straighterline, and Study.com couldn't except that it provides a mentor(nanny) which is more of a nuisance than help for persons that are independent learners. They want people to take this program seriously like it's an accredited school but it's not. If these programs were accredited providing college credit and paying … Read More

    The reason this college is failing is because it is not a real college. It provides no unique value to students that YouTube videos, Straighterline, and Study.com couldn’t except that it provides a mentor(nanny) which is more of a nuisance than help for persons that are independent learners. They want people to take this program seriously like it’s an accredited school but it’s not. If these programs were accredited providing college credit and paying for your certifications (A+, Security+, Network+) at the end of the training then people would be flooding this place.

  2. R. Malonely 8 months ago8 months ago

    Part of the reason the state of education is so poor in this country is we set educators against each other. We pay only for hours in front of a class but auction those assignments to the part-time faculty that will do more unpaid hours of extra work. Now we have whole colleges attacking each other to take their funding. Imagine how much better we could prepare the next generation if we … Read More

    Part of the reason the state of education is so poor in this country is we set educators against each other. We pay only for hours in front of a class but auction those assignments to the part-time faculty that will do more unpaid hours of extra work. Now we have whole colleges attacking each other to take their funding. Imagine how much better we could prepare the next generation if we didn’t have the distraction of faculty and colleges constantly fighting just to stay in place.

  3. Addie 9 months ago9 months ago

    I fear this school is giving competency based education a bad name. Why is a school keeping students “enrolled” when they aren’t engaged for an entire month or more (!!)? Is there any evidence to suggest a meaningful percentage of disengaged students will complete? Maybe at least they could publish their FTES along with headcount. Or put these disengaged students in a “stopped out” or on leave category. A college that cares more about padding … Read More

    I fear this school is giving competency based education a bad name. Why is a school keeping students “enrolled” when they aren’t engaged for an entire month or more (!!)? Is there any evidence to suggest a meaningful percentage of disengaged students will complete? Maybe at least they could publish their FTES along with headcount. Or put these disengaged students in a “stopped out” or on leave category.

    A college that cares more about padding enrollment numbers than being transparent and accountable is an embarrassment to the state and Governor Newsom.

    Kudos to Assemblymember Medina for taking a principled stand!

    Replies

    • Former Employee 8 months ago8 months ago

      Addie, as a former administrator at Calbright, you would think that the state would hold this college accountable, but they are not. Both current/former employees and members of the public have raised the enrollment issues to The Board of Trustees and their response was that Calbright is "unique". Besides that, what is not being covered is the amount of mistreatment that this leadership has caused current, and past employees. This is a college that is supposed … Read More

      Addie, as a former administrator at Calbright, you would think that the state would hold this college accountable, but they are not. Both current/former employees and members of the public have raised the enrollment issues to The Board of Trustees and their response was that Calbright is “unique”.

      Besides that, what is not being covered is the amount of mistreatment that this leadership has caused current, and past employees. This is a college that is supposed to provide a better future for students, yet they seem to toss, dedicate educators to the side or leave no other option but for people to resign. The financial and emotional impact has left many dedicated public servants in ruins.

      In addition there is a current pending litigation case “Roslyn Haley vs. Board of Trustees for California Online Community College District”. Why isn’t the media talking about this?

      Lastly, below, is a message from October 2021:
      I am concerned that we may be misrepresenting our enrollments.

      I have brought this up countless times, and since August 2020, have documented when, where, and to whom I and others have notified about these concerns. Neither I nor anyone else who has shared this same concern with me have been able to get a definitive response from leadership. Instead, we are either removed from meetings completely or hurried into private Zoom meetings where nothing is recorded or documented and concerns remain unaddressed. As public servants, working at a public institution of higher education, I respectfully implore that we have this conversation in the open, here, as a matter of public record.

      This started when I was looking at our most recent Milestone Report, in which we report 65 Medical Coding students. Upon close inspection, 28 (43%) have not completed an SAA in more than 90 days, and 12 (18%) have not completed an SAA in over 200 days.

      That got me thinking about other programs. In IT Support, which is our largest program by far, we report 340 students. As of October 4th, 2021, I see 356 Actively Enrolled students — which makes sense since I would expect to see more students enrolling. What I did not expect to see was that 79 (22%) students have not completed an SAA in over 200 days. Additionally, nearly half of all IT Support students (175; 49%) have not completed an SAA in over 90 days.

      This is shocking to me, as any other college I have worked at would have dropped these students by now. My professional opinion is that not dropping inactive students makes the Milestone Report’s enrollment numbers seem extremely disingenuous. How can we report enrollments for students that are not actively doing anything in our courses for several months?

      I decided to look at the metric Last LMS Activity, which tracks any academic behavior that we track (including, but not limited to, substantive academic activities), along with a current headcount of “Actively Enrolled” students, and broke that down by program. What I found was equally alarming:

       In IT Support, 33.9% (121/356) haven’t had any activity in over 60 days
       In Cybersecurity, 25.7% (17/66) haven’t had any activity in over 60 days
       In Medical Coding, 36.3% (20/55) haven’t had any activity in over 60 days
       In CRM Admin, 30.9% (13/42) haven’t had any activity in over 60 days

      It feels disingenuous to the Board, to the auditors, to the accreditors, to the legislators, and to the general public to report all “Actively Enrolled” students when there is a significant portion of those students who are no longer participating at Calbright.

      I decided to check the Academic Catalog, where I expected both a) a definition of Actively Enrolled, and b) the specific, quantifiable conditions required to consider a student no longer Actively Enrolled, but I could not find either.

      What I did find was:

       “All students are expected to have regular and substantive interaction with faculty and/or peers.” (p.24)
       “Calbright is a “continuous enrollment” institution, which means a student will be automatically enrolled in a new term if they are maintaining “satisfactory progress” in their program pathway.” (p.24)
       “Calbright requires that students make measurable progress toward the completion of their degree programs every term. A student’s progress is measured by tracking the percentage of completed course objectives and demonstrated competencies.” (p.24)
       “A student may be administratively dropped for the lack of academic engagement.” (p.25)

      (emphasis mine)

      What I did not find–not in our Milestone Report, our Academic Catalog, nor any meeting in which a number of staff have brought this up since I first started documenting it in August 2020–were the specific definitions for any of the following:

       regular and substantive interaction
       satisfactory progress
       measurable progress
       satisfactory academic engagement

  4. Leigh Anne Shaw 9 months ago9 months ago

    Why is Calbright still being funded when every single college in the entire system has proven itself to be able to offer quality content online? That funding could go towards offsetting costs for students and driving back enrollment after the devastation of the pandemic.

  5. Ann 9 months ago9 months ago

    Sounds the same or better than ‘distance learning’ in our public k-12s in 20-21 but we not only kept the funding we nearly doubled it!