CVC, What's Going On?


The California Virtual Campus (CVC) began as the California Virtual University (CVU). Funded at $2.9M in the 1998 budget, the CVU with four regional centers was created to assist in the effort to convert and create online courses and programs to cope with the increasing number of students enrolling in California's institutions of higher education. A database of available on-line courses, training, technical support, and shared resources (more efficient through the economy of scale) made the CVU a necessary resource for the successful implementation of online courses. The continued funding for the CVC was included as part of the goals in the Technology II Strategic Plan.

The goal was a system wide technology plan that would build on the Technology I Plan and encourage expanded uses of technology and continue to support the mission of the California Community Colleges. It has fostered long-range strategic plans at colleges for using technology in teaching and learning, increasing student access, improving student support services, and achieving better efficiencies and effectiveness in administrative support.1

The CVC met this goal by providing hosting and licensing services, faculty training, conferences, and an online course catalogue. These activities facilitate not just distance education but technology-mediated instruction (TMI) as well. TMI is more than "instruction in which the instructor and student are separated by distance and interact through the assistance of communication technology." 2 It now includes both hybrid classes where part of the class is offered at a distance and web-enhanced classes where online resources are used both in the lecture/lab and outside the class as an adjunct to more traditional resources. These hybrid and web-enhanced classes need the same resources: training, licensing, and hosting as traditional distance education classes. The combined needs of these classes are expected to grow over the next 5 years.

A campus that hosts its own TMI can expect a total annual expenditure of as much as $30,000 or more each year-after investing twice that much in start up costs. On the other hand, during the 2001-02 year, CVC "hosted" 55 of the 108 campuses; it would seem that its $2.9 million allocation-that also included training, database catalog, and conferences-was well spent.

Then came last year's budget crisis. The CVC survived after many segments of the California Community College system came to its defense. It survived, but its funding was reduced to $1.347 million, less than half of the original allocation. As a result of the reduction, the CVC reorganized to maintain the delivery of services that the system depended on: hosting, training, student support services as well as the online professional development center program and course catalog. During the budget negotiations, and with the uncertainties of their own budgets and the future of the CVC in question, some schools cut online course offerings or moved to more expensive alternatives to CVC hosting, a consequence of the downsizing occurring at many community colleges.

Thus, our current fiscal realities constrain the implementation of new technology. For example, ETUDES, currently owned by Foothill College who provides a license at a reasonable cost, is a course management system as is Blackboard or WebCT. Both WebCT and Blackboard started out with attractive licensing agreements, reduced costs, and appropriately sized for colleges offering few classes. Once colleges became dependent on these resources-after investing in equipment and hours-increases in licensing costs followed, and licenses held by colleges with fewer TMI were being eliminated. Many of the smaller colleges that could not afford these licensing fees have now joined the ETUDES consortium and will have guaranteed, reasonable licensing fees. Yet just as we needed CVC to host Blackboard or WebCT, we will need CVC to host ETUDES. Again, the economy of scale makes it very cost effective for CVC to host this technology. In fact, without this off-site host, many burgeoning programs in online education or TMI would not exist; without CVC, some colleges might have to close their online programs altogether.

The budget proposal for 2004-05 has allotted CVC no money, and the funds are proposed to be transferred to cover other expenses (restore maintenance/special repairs and instructional equipment). The Chancellor's Office is deciding whether to support this part of the proposal as this article is being written. Without CVC, many colleges with smaller online programs where hosting was not economically feasible will have to go to more expensive alternatives or drop the programs. In the case of TMI the budget not only drives driving programmatic decisions but also sends us four to six years back in the evolution of technical improvements in the classroom.

We invite you to join our breakout, "California Virtual Campus: To be or not to be.," at our October plenary session to discuss CVC, its current state and future plans, and our strategic responses.

1 California Community Colleges California Virtual University Legislative Progress Report Fiscal Year 2001-2002

2 Title 5 Section 55370