The California Online Community College and its Need for an Academic Senate

ASCCC Area A Representative

In April 2018, delegates to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges’ Spring Plenary Session acted together to voice their opposition to a fully online, one hundred and fifteenth community college through Resolution 6.02 S18, which was adopted by acclamation.[1] Nonetheless, the 2018-2019 California state budget created the California Online Community College (COCC), with the budget trailer bill language amending and creating sections of the California Education Code. In accordance with Education Code §75003, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors is the governing board of the new college. The California Online Community College is slated to have three programs developed by July of 2019 and students enrolled by the end of 2019.[2] To many, this timeline may seem ambitious for a new college intended to operate differently from our system’s existing colleges, but academic senate leaders and faculty around the state may be asking themselves various more immediate and practical questions regarding who will create, review, and approve the curriculum for the California Online Community College, who will ensure that faculty will make policy recommendations on academic and professional matters before those pressing deadlines, and, in short, who will act as the California Online Community College’s academic senate.

Many faculty are profoundly troubled by the creation of the COCC, feeling that their collective voice—not only through the most current ASCCC resolution but also multiple prior, related positions[3]—has not been heard. Now that the California Online Community College is a reality, with program pathways already announced and related one-time, competitive CVC-OEI grants for colleges to allow students of the COCC to continue their studies in one of those pathways, the challenge emerges of ensuring that an academic senate acts appropriately in accordance with Title 5 §53200 for this new college, now formally recognized as part of our system. Along with a tangible sense of disenfranchisement over the decision to create the new college, faculty leaders should be concerned about the potential of practices that develop there to impact the rest of the system. The need for faculty stewardship over academic and professional matters for the COCC transcends the college itself. An immediately obvious short-term solution, one which the language of the California Education Code itself supports,[4] is for the California Community Colleges Board of Governors to engage the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges as the academic senate of the California Online Community College until such a time that faculty for the COCC can establish their own academic senate.

Curriculum, Including Establishing Prerequisites; Degree and Certificate Requirements; and Educational Program Development

The California Online Community College, according to the current budget summary, will offer information technology and medical coding as two of its three programs. The COCC’s FAQ contains a broader list that the Chancellor’s office is exploring, “including advanced manufacturing, healthcare, the service sector, in-home support services, and child development.”[5] Faculty and academic senate leaders may wonder how the programs were identified in the absence of faculty for the COCC, given that it is a California community college and that program development is an academic and professional matter.[6] The ASCCC paper Effective Practices for Educational Program Development discusses in-depth the matter of faculty centrality in the creation of educational programs[7].

While this issue raises philosophical chicken-before-egg questions, new education code language does set clear parameters for the types of offerings the college will provide and how those offerings relate to the guiding principles of the COCC. Education Code §75001 establishes that the COCC’s programs will be “focused on providing industry-valued credentials compatible with the vocational and educational needs of Californians who are not currently accessing higher education.” Additionally, the guiding principles of the COCC include “offering working adults additional access to affordable, quality higher education opportunities with labor market value, especially industry-valued credentials based on competencies leading to employment, earnings gain, or upward mobility in the workplace, and not just courses leading to degrees and certificates.”[8] The careful inclusion of this last phrase to capture courses that could meet the purposes of the COCC but that do not lead to degrees or certificates is notable in the context of the Student Centered Funding Formula, which financially incentivizes Associate Degrees for Transfer above skills builders. The language does not exclude courses that do lead to degrees and certificates, especially in context of the newly announced $35 million in one-time funding for competitive grants for community colleges to facilitate students of the COCC continuing their studies at an existing California community college.[9] Clearly, careful decisions impacting not only the California Online Community College but other colleges in the system are being made or have been made about program development—at least insofar as beginning to identify the programs—without the input of faculty or an academic senate. As this work progresses toward creating curriculum and recommending programs for approval, faculty have the hope and expectation that the 10 + 1 will be honored—which, of course, cannot occur without an academic senate.

Governance of the COCC, the Need for an Academic Senate, and System-wide Implications

At its August 6, 2018 meeting, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors acted in accordance with newly revised California Education Code §75003 to create, from among their membership, an Executive Committee for the Online Community College District. Among the committee’s responsibilities are “[P]olicies for and approval of courses of instruction and educational programs” and procedures “to ensure the right of the college’s academic senate to make recommendations in areas of curriculum and academic standards.” [10] The duties of the Executive Committee of the California Online Community College seem in many ways consistent with duties of existing district governing boards, but their work cannot move forward as it does in established districts without faculty or an academic senate with which to consult.

As with the identification of information technology and medical coding as two of the three initial credentials or program pathways, other aspects of the direction of the California Online Community College for which one would expect academic senates traditionally to make recommendations or at the very least weigh in appear to have already been determined. One example is the Budget Trailer Bill Language that “Upon the Establishment of an Academic Senate for the California Online Community College, the faculty shall review the Online Education Initiative Protocols for Online Content and adopt as appropriate.” Along the same lines, the COCC is birthed in the CVC-OEI ecosystem, in that the COCC will use and contribute to the development of the CVC-OEI’s resources. [11]

The COCC is designed to offer courses using competency-based education, in contrast to traditional approaches to curriculum in the California Community College System. Creating curriculum in this manner touches on various aspects of academic senate purview as defined in Title 5 §53200, such as curriculum, grading policies, and standards and policies regarding student preparation and success. The newly created California Education Code §75001(d)(2)(A) requires that such “Competencies shall be established with the advice of appropriate faculty. . .” Given that the new college is part of the community college system, the decisions made around the development of how to administer competency-based education hold the potential to have far-reaching, system-wide effects, especially in relationship to how other community colleges are expected and incentivized to provide venues for students of the new college to continue their studies.

One significant concern is how the developed curriculum of the COCC will align with or lead to certificate or degree completion at existing California community colleges. The objective for existing colleges to develop curriculum extending on the COCC’s pathways can be found in the approved California 2018-2019 budget, which includes “$35 million one-time Proposition 98 General Fund for community college districts to develop online programs and courses that lead to short-term, industry-valued credentials, or enable a student enrolled in a pathway developed by the California Online Community College to seek continued education through pathways offered by an existing community college.”[12] This funding seems to blur the line, if such a line ever existed, dividing the target population of the new college and our system’s existing population, since it incentivizes existing districts to create the same type of programs that the COCC will offer. In addition, the emphasis on enabling students from the COCC to continue their pathways at an existing college presents unique, system-wide challenges as well: If programs at existing colleges are developed to complete the pathways established at the new college, colleges must also ensure that those programs are accessible toall other students. Questions remain as to whether the pathways necessarily begin at the COCC, and, if not, whether the COCC will actually be serving a different population.  And since the COCC will use competency-based education, colleges must wonder whether programs developed under the special one-time funding at existing colleges will be expected to operate in the same way. Faculty experts must be actively engaged with these issues in an effort to prevent critical decisions regarding courses, programs, and competency-based education from being made without recommendations from faculty.

A Possible Short-Term Solution, Borne out of Issues

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges may be uniquely poised to address these needs, given that it is California’s only academic senate that represents all of the community colleges. California Education Code §70901(b)(5)(B) reads, “The Board of Governors may enter into a direct contract with the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges for the purpose of supporting statewide initiatives, projects, and programs within the purview of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.”[13] Numerous issues that fall under the purview of academic senates have arisen regarding the COCC, which has burst onto the educational landscape without its own academic senate. The ASCCC is the only faculty body currently in a position to fill this void for the new college until the COCC can create its own local senate.

The California Online Community College was created despite the urging of many stakeholders in the community college system, program pathways for the COCC have been identified in advance of its having an academic senate, competitive CVC-OEI grants have been budgeted for community colleges to develop online courses and pathways to serve continuing students of the new college, and the curricular design of competency-based education for the new college may have implications for the entire California Community College System. For these reasons, faculty throughout the state of California must act quickly and emphatically to urge the Board of Governors to recognize the ASCCC as the acting academic senate of the California Online Community College and to establish a permanent academic senate for the COCC as expeditiously as possible. Decisions that have the potential to radically transform California community colleges are already being made or have been made through the changes to the California Education Code created by the Budget Trailer Bill and the adoption of the current state budget. Although nearly all faculty organizations opposed the creation of the COCC, the online college has been created despite all objections, and now the community college system must do all it can to ensure the success and proper operation of the COCC for the sake of its students and of the entire system. Spilt milk may merit tears, but it does not absolve faculty of the responsibility to continue to assert the role of academic senates or the Board of Governors of its responsibility to recognize that role.

[1] Opposition to the Proposed California Online Community College District, Resolution 6.02 S18,

[2] California 2018-2019 Budget Summary, Higher Education, page 41,

[3] Using System Consultation and Faculty Input to Address Expansion of Online Education, Resolution 7.10 F17,;  Expanding Competence-Based Education through an Online Consortium, Resolution 13.01 S18,; Expand System-wide Online Educational Opportunities, Resolution 9.02 F17,

[4] §70901(b)(5)(B), California Education Code,

[5] Frequently Asked Questions, Online Community College from the California Community Colleges, page 3,

[6] §53200, California Code of Regulations

[7] Effective Practices for Educational and Program Development, page 15,

[8] California Online Community College Act, California Budget Trailer Bill, page 7,

[9]Approval of Contracts and Grants, California Community Colleges Board of Governors Agenda Item 2.1, September 18-18, 2018, pages 7-8,

[10] Establishment of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, California Community Colleges Board of Governors Agenda Item 7, August 6, 2018,

[11] California Online Community College Act, California Budget Trailer Bill, pages 9-10,

[12] 6870: Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, Enacted 2018-2019 California State Budget, Education, page 2

[13] California Online Community College Act, California Budget Trailer Bill, page 3,