It’s The End of Cal State Online As We Know It . . .

In a letter to campus leaders, Cal State University system office last month announced that Cal State Online will no longer operate as originally conceived. Emphasis added below.

As the CSU continues to expand its online education strategies, Cal State Online will evolve as a critical component. An early Cal State Online goal will continue: to increase the quality and quantity of fully online education offerings to existing and prospective CSU students, resulting in successful completion of courses and graduation.

The re-visioning of Cal State Online was recommended by the Council of Presidents and approved by the chancellor. This will include a shift to a communication, consultation and services’ strategy for fully online campus degree programs, credentials, certificates and courses supported by opt-in shared services. Cal State Online’s shared services will be designed, delivered and managed to:

1. Make it easy for prospective and existing students to discover, decide, enroll and successfully complete their CSU online education opportunities.

2. Make it more cost-effective for CSU campuses to develop, deliver and sustain their high- quality fully online degree, credential and certificate programs and courses.

Background in a nutshell

In early 2010 a sub-set of the Cal State presidents – the Technology Steering Committee (TSC) – came up with a plan to get the system to aggressively push online education across the system. In fall 2011 the group commissioned a consultant’s set of reports to help them pick an operating model, with the reports delivered in February 2012. This study led to the creation of CSU Online, conceived as a separate 501(c)3 non-profit group[1] run by the system, with the plan to use a for-profit Online Service Provider (OSP).[2] Early on they realized that Colorado State University was already using the CSU Online name, and the initiative was renamed Cal State Online. The idea was to offer fully-online programs offered by individual campuses in a one-stop shop. Based on an RFP process, in August 2012 Cal State Online selected Pearson as their OSP partner.

Some media coverage of initiative:

The March IHE article quoted official Cal State documents to describe the initiative.

“The goal of Cal State Online is to create a standardized, centralized, comprehensive business, marketing and outreach support structure for all aspects of online program delivery for the Cal State University System,” says the draft RFP. In the open letter, the executive director offers assurances that “participation is optional” for each of the system’s nearly two dozen campuses, “all programs participating in Cal State Online are subject to the same approval processes as an on-campus program,” and “online courses will meet or exceed the quality standards of CSU face-to-face courses.”

What has changed?

This change is significant and recent, meaning that Cal State likely does not have full plans on what will happen in the future. For now:

  • Cal State Online will no longer be a separate operating entity, and the remnant, or “re-visioned” services will be run by the existing Academic Technology Services department within the Chancellor’s Office.

The re-visioning Cal State Online team will be led by Gerry Hanley (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services) with Sheila Thomas (State University Dean, Extended and Continuing Education).

  • Pearson is no longer the OSP, and in fact, they had already changed their role many months ago[3] to remove the on-site team and become more of a platform provider for the LearningStudio (aka eCollege) LMS and supporting services.
  • Cal State is no longer attempting to provide a centralized, comprehensive support structure “for all aspects of online program delivery” but instead will centrally provide select services through the individual campuses.
  • It is clear that Cal State is positioning this decision to show as much continuity as possible. They will continue to provide some of the services started under Cal State Online and will continue to support the programs that have already been offered through the group.

Some services will continue and CSU may keep the name, but it’s the end of Cal State Online as we know it.

I am working on a longer post to explain what happened, including (hopefully) some interviews for supporting information . . . stay tuned.

Update: Changed description of Pearson change and added footnote.

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  1. I have not independently verified that the organization truly was set up as a 501(c)3. []
  2. Pearson had a team in place at Cal State providing LMS, implementation and integration services, enrollment management & marketing, course design support, analytics and reporting, learning object repository, help desk and technical support, training and faculty support. []
  3. I believe this occurred Feb 2014 but am not sure. []

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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7 Responses to It’s The End of Cal State Online As We Know It . . .

  1. tom abeles says:

    Hi Phil/Michael

    Can you, in a nutshell, explain what i will see and be able to obtain when I visit this repositioned program? Does it now, or will it, in the future offer a program that wold lead from enrollment to a degree? Will it be credit hour based or, competency based? What will be the platform and what services will I be able to access? Entrane requirements, etc


    tom abeles

  2. Phil Hill says:

    Tom, I think it’s premature to answer that question with specifics. I don’t think there will be an *it*, though. By changing it to a set of services for the campuses, the answer would come from individual campuses in the future.

    There is a different program within Cal State ATS called Course Match that is worth exploring. That is the one where they are spending their $10 million investment from governor’s office. It is a credit-based, campus collaboration (offer courses from campus XX to any students within the system).

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