Ashley A. Smith
October 21, 2021
In just two years, fewer than 70 students have completed a certificate at Calbright College, California’s exclusively online community college. The low numbers appear to support critics who have accused the college of failing to deliver on its promises.
During that period, more than 1,000 have enrolled, and as of this month, 569 have dropped out. About 518 are still enrolled.
Calbright has been a frequent target of criticism over its low enrollment and the small number of students completing their studies to be awarded certificates.
The latest surfaced during a Wednesday meeting of its board of trustees. The public comments echoed criticisms raised two weeks ago in a posting on the college’s internal Slack channel, obtained by EdSource, accusing the college of not being fully transparent with enrollment numbers in its July 30 milestone report to the Legislature.
In its newest report, released Wednesday to EdSource, the college shows that of the 518 students enrolled across four programs, 88% have been actively engaged with their classes in the past 180 days.
In determining its enrollment, the college uses 180 days, which is used by other similar online colleges, to determine whether a student has been active or inactive. Critics say that’s too long to carry a nonparticipating student.
Calbright President Ajita Menon insisted that the college has been regularly reporting information and providing a level of “granular” data that they had not been asked for before.
“We’re a public institution, and everything that we do is an open book,” Menon told EdSource. “We went through a lengthy audit process where all of our data surfaced.” She said she can’t control how others interpret how the data was presented.
Calbright has faced significant pressure from the Legislature, which has criticized the college’s low completion numbers. The state audit, released in July, also showed few completions and gave the college until the end of 2022 to improve.
In addition, a bill that would have effectively eliminated the college by the end of 2022-23 failed to gain momentum in the Senate despite unanimously passing the Assembly. Calbright has had strong support from Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
The college initially received $100 million in state funds over seven years for startup costs and about $20 million annually for operating expenses. The Legislature cut Calbright’s one-time funding in 2020 to $60 million and ongoing annual dollars to $15 million.