Campus, News

CSULB lacking in funding and faculty for learning technology

By Carter Williams II and Dominic Padilla

As CSULB transitions further into its post-COVID semesters, so do the online methods of teaching that became the norm during the pandemic.

The California State University campuses, like other higher education systems, relied heavily on virtual Zoom classrooms during the pandemic and have slowly resumed in-person learning over the past two years.

This fall, with the campus only four semesters removed from fully-virtual learning due to COVID-19, only 20% of courses are still being offered online.

Students have expressed a preference for more online learning options over traditional classroom offerings.

The challenge presented to Long Beach State is the lack of sufficient state funding needed to adapt to the rising online student demands.

State and federal COVID-19 legislation passed during 2020 and 2021 fulfilled these online students’ needs, including a nationwide total of $14 billion granted by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

CSULB’s $120 million in allocated funds went to upgrading classrooms and Wi-Fi connectivity. This improved faculty access to online teaching, allowing the one-time purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops for off-campus students who didn’t have reliable access to the internet at home.

According to CSULB Chief Information Officer and Vice President Min Yao, the chances of increased funding for additional technology and online learning services are waning, given the state rejection of this year’s fiscal plan.

“We are continuing to evaluate emerging technologies and will selectively implement some of the emerging technologies if students need them and if we can afford them,” said Yao.

This includes the Smart Campus Initiative. The Division of Information Technology implemented in Fall 2016 as a multi-year plan to modernize the campus experience with new technology to help students, faculty and the general public experience CSULB programs.

As of fall 2022, many of the Smart Campus Initiatives usage numbers have seen growth compared to previous years.

The Student Virtual Lab, a collection of 36 campus-licensed software packages available for CSULB students, saw a 183% increase in usage from the past year.

Within that growth, there was a 71% increase in DocuSign, an online program that allows students to send eSignature emails, indicating students’ reliance on such software.

Yao said that funding issues are the main obstacle facing the university as they pursue future technologies that will continue to impact online learning for students and faculty.

According to Yao, the lack of funding also affects the university’s ability to offer competitive salaries and draw candidates away from the private IT sector.

“CSU’s pay structure doesn’t attract people to come and work for us,” he said. “As a result, we currently have about 15% of vacant positions that we can’t find qualified people to fill.”

Without government support and a necessary overhaul of CSU technology job salaries, CSULB’s alternating online and in-person learning presents technology issues as the university transitions.

Even with classes taught entirely online, the enrollment numbers from fall 2020 remained steady with previous fall semesters, which put more pressure on CSULB’s online teaching services.

In the fall of 2020, 67,000 applications from first-time, first-year students lead to nearly 5,000 admissions. This is compared to in-person semesters like fall 2019, having 5,000 admissions out of a pool of 71,000, and fall 2021, having 4,800 admissions out of 67,000 applications.

As a result, Academic Technology Services and the Division of Information Technology monitored the university’s online learning challenges in the following semesters.

“The trajectory is to gradually expand online offerings through different modalities,” said Shariq Ahmed, Vice President of Academic Technology Services at The Beach.

The modalities in question expand beyond the realm of just online instruction but also into other avenues to modernize Long Beach State going forward.

The Beach 2030 campaign, which launched in 2018, invited stakeholders, students, faculty, staff, and community members to a two-day forum designed to elevate the collective voice of the campus.

Its goal is to continue to push CSULB’s legacy of inclusivity into a movement to rally students, faculty and community members into action for the future of CSULB.

“There is a focus to provide access to non-traditional students who may otherwise not be able to go to college,” Ahmed said.

According to the Spring 2022 CSULB Student Transportation Survey, about 34% of students commute above the average of 16 miles, making traditional student living a thing of the past locally.

“Sometimes coming to campus can be hard, especially if the classes are later in the evening or early in the morning,” said Shawn Kunipo, a geography major.

According to this year’s CSULB student data, over 80% of students attend classes full-time, and a third of the student body is enrolled in 15 or more units.

CSULB being a traditional commuter university and students having jobs, student clubs, and other obligations makes the flexibility of online learning more appealing.

“I work full-time and need to have a work, home, and school balance, especially since I’m taking seven classes, so online courses are a lot more convenient, even if I prefer to be in a normal classroom,” said fourth-year marketing major Hailey Rodriguez.

Part of The Beach 2030 campaign is a growth strategy to become a student-ready and future-ready university. As student needs evolve, so must the campus’ capacity to offer new programs and new modalities to keep CSULB relevant, competitive and serving the public good.

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