Enrollment in online courses and programs has steadily increased over the past 15 years, and in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed widespread use of remote courses and services. This shift prompted higher education faculty, staff, administrators, and students to reflect on online education’s role in improving access to courses, programs, and services, while balancing quality and cost.

Californians, particularly those with limited college access, expressed a strong demand for online courses, programs, and services. In response, higher education leaders declared plans to expand their online offerings, and policymakers set targets for increasing online learning opportunities and provided incentives to use those opportunities.

Yet, despite the rising demand and use of online education, stakeholders continue to raise concerns about this mode of learning in California. Why is there such reluctance to engage in and friction about a high-demand avenue that—if systemically integrated with intention—could improve educational access, outcomes, and opportunities, especially for certain underserved populations?

To better understand barriers to online education’s progress, this report from California Competes: Higher Education for a Strong Economy identifies the main areas of concern, why they exist, and provides guidance to help public postsecondary stakeholders address the concerns and advance the state’s movement toward a more equitable and agile system of learning.

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