All of California’s 114 community colleges already have robust online programs including counseling and tutorial services, so the $100 million in start-up costs and the annual investment of $20 million the state will spend on the online college could be used on these existing programs — and to fully fund the Online Education Initiative which has been in place for several years and benefits districts.
Duplicating existing programs. Diverting taxpayer resources. Recruiting students from other districts. Not meeting critical deadlines. Lack of input from faculty stakeholders. Lack of transparency.
These are some of the reasons leaders from the CFT’s Community College Council strongly oppose the state’s new all online community college, now doing business as “Calbright,” which they say was created to fill a need that doesn’t exist. All of California’s 114 community colleges already have robust online programs including counseling and tutorial services, so the $100 million in start-up costs and the annual investment of $20 million the state will spend on the online college could be used on these existing programs — and to fully fund the Online Education Initiative which has been in place for several years and benefits districts.
“That money could be used to build up and shore up what we’ve already started,” said Peralta Federation of Teachers President Jennifer Shanoski. “Most of community colleges are struggling with enrollment and they’re giving us these unfunded mandates. Why would we add another college and spread resources even thinner?”
Shanoski has been fighting hard against the new online college, including going to lobbying against it in Sacramento in May, and requesting that state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, sponsor legislation to remove it from the Education Code. She’s also led a letter-writing campaign to Skinner, urging her to oppose Calbright.
Gov. Jerry Brown pushed the online college through at the end of his term as part of the budget bill rather than as legislation, so it wasn’t voted on. It is scheduled to open on October 1.
Calbright will negatively affect community colleges around the state, Shanoski says, but she thinks it will be particularly damaging to the Peralta district in Oakland, since its main office will be there, and Calbright will offer programs directly competing with ones at Peralta, including information technology and cyber security.
“They’re also talking about some hybrid classes,” she said. “If they do that, and the classes are offered here at Peralta, that’s a problem.”
Another concern for Shanoski is the managers for the new college. She describes them as “privatization folks.”
“The chancellor has never worked in higher education,” she said about Heather Hiles, a technology entrepreneur. “It’s a problem for us in trying to keep public education public.”
Hiles’s last job, according to LinkedIn, was founder, CEO and managing partner of Imminent Equity, “a growth equity fund that applies AI, XR and blockchain to optimize the performance and growth of portfolio companies.” She will earn a base salary of $385,000 along with yearly bonuses that start at $10,000 and a car allowance, making her one of the highest paid community college officials in the state.
Jim Mahler, president of the CFT Community College Council, also mentioned the large salaries of Calbright’s managers as a big problem.
“They’re supposed to be spending 50 percent on instruction like all other districts, but there’s no way they’re going to do that because they’re paying their top managers nearly half a million dollars each,” he said.
In July, CFT President Jeff Freitas testified before CalBright’s Board of Trustees to share the concerns about the college’s launch and to say that unless the institution addressed the issues, CFT would start legal proceedings to protect the existing community colleges.
The CFT has followed through on that, Mahler says, and the union is readying its litigation to force the online college to comply with the California Education Code.
“The Ed Code violations are spelled out in our recent letter,” Mahler said referring to the letter Freitas presented to the board. “And we’re still finding more potential violations as we move forward.”
This spring, CFT expressed extreme skepticism when the Executive Council voted a measure of no confidence in the administration of statewide community college chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. Other faculty groups have followed suit.
The no-confidence vote was in part due to concerns about the cost and accountability of the online college as well as Oakley’s lack of interest in consulting with faculty members on policy matters. Another reason was the new community college funding model, which allocates money to districts based on the number of degrees and certificates they award.
Shanoski would like to see CFT members organize against Calbright. She sees the online college as something both redundant and expensive, paying huge sums to its administrators and draining resources from traditional community colleges.
“The thing that’s the most salient to me and the argument that should win the day is we already have these programs and we already offer them online,” she said. “Why are we watering down our programs? To me it’s a waste of taxpayer money.”
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter