When my contemporaries reminisce about their college days, most focus fondly on the experience of invigorating intellectual challenges coupled with those exciting times of newfound independence. For many of our kids embarking on this journey today, the memories are shaping-up differently; anger and frustration at being denied a seat in the classes they need, and worries over increasing debt as they're forced to extend their studies by one year, two years or even more.
In California, the blueprint laid out by the state's Master Plan for Higher Education was founded on the principles that higher education be available to all, regardless of economic means, and that academic progress should only be limited by individual proficiency. Fifty years hence, our great system is at a crossroads. Hundreds of thousands of students are instead tangled in the web of demand for classes far outstripping supply. Last fall, an estimated 470,000 California Community College students were stuck on wait lists to get into the classes they need. Fewer than 20 percent of our California State University students are able to graduate within four years.
I am proposing legislation that can reshape higher education, bringing our exemplary institutions into partnership with technology to break the bottleneck that's preventing students from completing their coursework. Under Senate Bill 520, California would be the first in the nation to offer students a statewide system of faculty-approved online college courses for credit. The goal is to create online alternatives for up to 50 lower-division courses which are the most impacted in our University of California, California State University and California Community College systems. The motivation is straightforward -- no college student should be denied the right to complete their education because they can't get a classroom seat in a course they need to graduate or continue their studies.
Right now, we have an incredibly dedicated and talented faculty forming the core of some of the strongest teaching and research institutions in the world, and yet our proud systems of higher education are struggling to reach thousands of students because there aren't enough classes available. In a separate world, there is extraordinary technological innovation developing online education and online courses. What we seek to do is bring together this educational and entrepreneurial energy, maintaining quality and high standards through a faculty-driven process of certifying online courses, to give students an online lifeline that tears down the barriers as they pursue their education.
That's what the bill is; there are many things this bill is not.
It is not a substitute for campus-based instruction. The only online courses that should be certified and offered for college credit are those where eligible students cannot get a seat on campus in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. Neither should the courses be available if the college or campus is already offering an online alternative.
This bill does not take quality control away from faculty. While the courses can be developed by third-party providers, they must be reviewed and approved by a nine-member faculty panel comprised of three faculty appointed by the respective academic senates of the UC, CSU and community college systems. As part of that approval process, the courses must include elements that provide students the ability to interact with faculty, ask questions, and get help in problem-solving. In addition, there must be a secure testing process to ensure there is little or no risk of cheating. If these and other conditions are unmet, the course cannot be certified for credit.
Thirdly, this bill is not intended to shift funding priorities in higher education. Governor Jerry Brown proposes significant increased funding for expansion of traditional course offerings, as well as development of more online education. We look forward to supporting meaningful investment for core instruction in addition to these investments in technology, and we agree the online courses can only work if there are enough resources to hire and bring in live educators to handle increased faculty workload.
This is a plan that is generating excitement and opportunity. This is also a plan that is creating controversy and trepidation, especially in the world of academia. Yet the online course movement has already arrived in various forms. We have the choice of either helping to shape the evolution of online education, or standing by to watch and hope that it all turns out okay. If we do not get out in front of it, to focus on faculty approval and academic rigor, we run the great risk of diminished quality in higher education. For the sake of our students and workforce of our future, that is a risk none of us should be willing to take.