Foothill College Exploring Online Education Partnerships

Cuts to state financial aid coupled with the rapid spread of free online classes have led many in academe to wonder what college will look like in the future.Foothill College has one possible solution.

The two-year community college in Los Altos Hills, Calif. has begun discussions with Khan Academy and massive open online course (MOOC) provider Udacity. According to an interview Foothill’s president Judy Miner gave to Palo Alto Online, one possible outcome of the partnership could be a rethinking of the business model of higher education.

Miner hinted that, instead of charging students per credit hour, Foothill might be considering exploring a variation of competency-based education. She described a model that would allow students to watch instructional videos that meet the school’s curriculum requirements and then pay the school only when they wish to demonstrate their mastery of a subject.

Focusing so heavily on online education would be a drastic reworking of the school’s present instructional model. While the school currently offers 13 online associate degrees, only about 15%-20% of the college’s total course offerings are either completely online classes or a mix of classroom and online instruction.

Foothill’s relatively small digital footprint is in recognition that online education may not be suited to everyone. To help students determine whether or not online college courses are right for them the school offers potential students a self-assessment tool on its website.

If the school does integrate course content produced by a third-party vendor, it won’t be alone. Earlier this month the University of Texas announced that it would be developing, along with its partner edX, MOOCs for introductory level classes. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also presented edX with a grant to develop remedial level MOOCs for community college students.

Foothill’s consideration of competency-based education also follows an announcement from Western Governors University that the school had partnered with three community colleges to develop a competency-based computer science curriculum. However, Foothills might be the first school to explore marrying MOOCs and competency-based education.

Follow Alex Wukman on Twitter @AlexWukmanCMN

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