Online courses can’t beat real classrooms

A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.
A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Once again, online college courses have failed to make the grade.

As reported in a New York Times article published in Wednesday’s Tribune, a recent study of a million people who registered for online classes found that only about half actually viewed a lecture, and a miniscule 4 percent went on to complete their course.

We still believe that online learning has its place, and colleges and universities should continue to look for the ways to make those courses more appealing and useful to students. But online teaching is never going to be a replacement for traditional education at brick-and-mortar schools, and that underscores the need to keep facilities safe and up-to-date.

Unfortunately, the state of California has struggled to provide adequate funds for building projects and as a result, there’s a backlog of needs at many public institutions. Cuesta College is one of those.

As Tribune writer AnnMarie Cornejo has reported, some programs at Cuesta’s Paso Robles campus — including a child care center and public safety programs — have been operating out of old modular buildings that are overdue for replacement. And many buildings on the SLO campus are more than 30 years old and in need of new roofs, air conditioning and heating.

Cuesta estimates that buildings on the main campus need $100 million in repairs and upgrades. The college also is looking at adding four buildings at the Paso Robles campus, which will cost an additional $80 million. To fund such projects, Cuesta’s Board of Trustees is in the early stages of discussing a bond measure for the 2014 ballot.

We agree that it’s appropriate to consider a bond at this stage, with the economy recovering and Cuesta safely past the shaky period when its accreditation was in doubt. What’s more, it’s encouraging that recent opinion polling indicated strong voter support for a bond measure.

However, this is no time to be overly optimistic about the public’s willingness to increase its tax burden. We strongly caution Cuesta officials to carefully consider how much money to seek, and to be prepared to justify the need for whatever sum it decides to request.

The college did not have a clearly delineated spending plan when it asked voters to approve a $310 million bond in 2006, and that measure failed.

Bottom line: We aren’t prepared to endorse a bond at this early stage, but we strongly encourage Cuesta to continue laying the ground work to put a measure on the ballot in 2014.