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The University of California System Just Banned Fully-Online Degrees

The University of California (UC) system has banned fully online degrees—a decision that reinforces the UC system’s belief that in-person learning trumps a fully remote college experience.

Inside Higher Ed reports that UC students must now earn a minimum of six course credits per quarter (or semester) for three quarters (or two semesters) in courses where at least half of the instruction is in person on a UC campus. Those earning their degree in prison are exempt from the ruling.

“The University of California is known for a certain kind of excellence,” Mary Ann Smart, professor of music at UC Berkeley and chair of the Berkeley division of the Academic Senate, tells Inside Higher Ed. “If it’s going to move toward offering online degrees, that should be a deliberate, conscious and carefully planned decision, and that decision hasn’t been made yet.”


Traditionally, employers have viewed in-person degrees in a more positive light than online degrees. But the COVID-10 pandemic helped change that.

Today, the majority of employers (71%) view online educational credentials as either equal to or superior in quality compared to in-person degrees, according to a 2021 Northeastern University study.

Despite that data, UC officials argue that in-person learning correlates to better academic performance.

“We know that undergraduate students taking classes in person often perform academically better than those taking classes online and, that students learning in-person are more likely to complete the course,” Melanie Cocco, an associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at UC Irvine who also serves as chair of the university committee on educational policy, says.

According to Cocco, graduation rates for online students are significantly lower than those of in-person students. In addition, she cited concerns that online courses are prone to technical difficulties that traditional, in-person classes typically do not face.

Some experts disagree. Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures, a consulting and research firm, says both online and in-person learning face their unique sets of challenges—and choosing one over the other is simply an outdated way of thinking.

“That kind of blanket negativity is a relic from the days when online was only done by for-profits,” Garrett says. “You can use online to do great things, bad things and different things, just as you can use campus classrooms to do all of those things … Also, you can thrive in an online environment, and you can crash in the on-campus environment depending on the curriculum as well as the modality. The modality is just one variable.”

Sources: Inside Higher Ed, University of California, Northeastern University

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