There are 8.5 million reasons why the state of California should have a fully online community college.
They are our neighbors and our co-workers, they are ethnically diverse and they make up one-third of California's adult population. They are cut off from opportunities to gain skills and grow their wages due to long-standing barriers to public higher education.
A fully online community college offers access, equity and flexibility for working adults who cannot attend a brick-and-mortar campus or follow a traditional academic calendar year, and especially for Latinos. It is the subject of a joint hearing Tuesday of the Assembly budget subcommittee on education finance and the Assembly higher education committee.
Roughly 6 million California adults who could take advantage of an online college are ages 35 to 65 and 2.5 million are ages 25 to 34. They have a high school diploma and some or no college, and 80 percent of them work. But they cannot advance in their jobs because they can't attend the local college because of work and family obligations.
From January 2008 to January 2013, the number of U.S. high school graduates with jobs fell by more than 2.8 million, while the number of college-educated Americans with jobs increased by more than 4.3 million. By the year 2020, some 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some kind of certificate or degree. Emerging technologies continue to evolve rapidly, automation is increasing and the "gig economy" is growing, with more part-time workers willing to take short-term jobs.
We have a dire need for training to maintain a highly skilled, diverse and innovative workforce in California if we are to continue to thrive as the world's sixth largest economy. The American Council on Education identifies "non-traditional" students as "older than the age of 24, racially diverse, financially independent and working full-time or connected to the U.S. military."
In California, the description is apt. The make-up of our "non-traditional" population is 49 percent Latino, 31 percent white, nine percent Asian and seven percent African American. Most simply cannot access the current public education system and need a flexible path that fits their timetable. A fully online college would help them gain credits toward a degree or move up in their workplace. While more of them have internet access through broadband or smart phones, public and private solutions will have to be developed to ensure fair access to online courses.
The state's community college system is a proven, affordable way to start higher education, and 2.2 million students already are taking advantage. But 8.5 million Californians already largely in the workforce would benefit from an online college.