There's the University of California, the California State University and California Community Colleges. Soon, there could be a fourth system of higher education -- the New University of California.
The catch? It wouldn't offer classes. It wouldn't charge tuition. And it wouldn't hire professors.
Instead, it would awards degrees based on mastery of skills and subjects, even if the student has never taken a class.
The idea comes from Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, who said he wants to make college more accessible to Californians.
So he proposed a bill to the California State Assembly for a new type of higher education institution: Students would earn course credit by passing exams, and once a student had passed enough exams in his field, he would receive a degree.
The bill, AB 1306, explains the proposed system:
The goal of the university is for its students to obtain the requisite knowledge and skills to pass the examinations administered by the university from any source, such as massive open online courses, the student deems appropriate. When the student feels that he or she is ready to take an examination, the student shall pay the examination fee, present acceptable identification at the examination, and, upon passage of the examination, receive academic credit. When a student receives sufficient academic credit in prescribed courses, the university shall issue an appropriate degree to that student.
"This bill would allow students to use whatever approach works best for them to obtain the knowledge needed to receive a college education, whether that is online courses, paid courses, or self-directed study," said a statement from Wilk's office, quoted in the Daily Californian.
The assemblyman introduced the bill in February, and on April 23, the Committee on Higher Education will hold hearings.
The California State University is studying the potential impact of the proposed system on the CSU, said CSU chancellor spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp, who declined to comment further.
For its part, the chancellor's office at the California Community Colleges has not paid close attention to the bill because it's still in the early stages, said Mike McGee, the interim vice chancellor for public affairs.
Nonetheless, he said, the chancellor's office has a lot of questions.
"Bills that creative don't always get all the questions answered right off the bat," he said, citing the accreditation process as one of their bigger concerns -- How do you accredit a university that doesn't have classes and faculty?
McGee also said there are discussions over how necessary such a system would be, given that California's community colleges already offer course credit by exam -- an option military personnel often take advantage of, he said.
Wilk's office did not return calls for comment.
The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley's student-run newspaper, interviewed student leaders, who expressed mixed reactions:
“Part of my feeling towards this bill is to be cautious about modifying our higher education system in ways that would substantially alter it,” said ASUC Senator and CalSERVE external affairs vice president candidate Nolan Pack. “I think the problem is that, while there may be arguments saying that it is cheaper, it circumvents the problem that we are not currently funding our higher education system to where it should be.”
UC Student Association Organizing and Communications Director Darius Kemp echoed Pack’s concerns.
“We always believe in a progressive conversation to improve higher education and are willing to sit down with any legislators looking to improve the accessibility and affordability of the UC system,” Kemp said. “While we encourage discussion towards any improvement to higher education, we also feel that it’s important that we fix the broken system we have now.”
The UC Office of the President has yet to review the bill and at this point has no comment, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.