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Critics: online degrees would hurt UC prestige

July 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
At first, it will just be a pilot program with a few dozen credit-bearing courses offered online.Then if successful, the University of California system could start offering some online undergraduate degrees.

The pitch will be made at this week's Board of Regents meeting.

"There are no prestigious, elite, selective, great universities offering online education," UC Vice Provost Daniel Greenstein said. "There's an opportunity extend and enhance the quality of the brand by demonstrating that we can do it not just right, but really well."

Some campuses, like UCLA and Berkeley, already offer online courses, but they're mostly through the extension arm.

In these tight-budget times, online degrees could be a way to serve more students.

University of Massachusetts has one of the most successful online degree programs in the country, reporting a 20 percent increase in revenue and a 14 percent enrollment growth.

But UMass is no UC, and that's what worries some students.

While they embrace technology, they feel the prestige of a UC degree would diminish if online degrees were to be offered.

"The degree doesn't actually reflect the amount of work, the intelligence someone actually puts in the hard work to go through a UC education," said George Jeung, a student.

Professors, too, said there's still value in learning the old fashioned way.

"The classroom experience is best," said Dr. Winfried Schleiner, a professor of English literature."The learning experience, the exchange of ideas between live people."

But Thomas Maxwell thinks the classroom experience can be overrated. The student is taking a summer online course from a school in Utah because UC Davis stopped offering a science class he needed.

"I can remember freshman chemistry," Maxwell said. "It's the professor and 500 students. If you think you're going to get to ask a question, it's probably not going to happen."

UC says it'll make sure the system's prestige isn't hurt.

For now, administrators hope to raise $6 million in private donations for the pilot program, with an eye on possible online degrees in the future.


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