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Go ahead and put that online course on your Stanford application

Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen

When a student at your Idaho high school is admitted to Stanford University, you tend to hear about it. Stanford, near San Francisco, attracts top scholars from around the world, and it’s a prized destination for the highest achieving Idahoans.

So I was a little disturbed to hear last week in public comment that high school seniors who had taken online courses wouldn’t be able to apply those courses in their Stanford applications.

This claim came as part of testimony on the education plan that was put out by Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction. Among other things, Luna’s plan calls for every high school student in the state to take online courses. The plan also calls for the elimination of about 800 teacher jobs over the next two years. Luna also wants to increase class sizes.

Luna’s office insists that teachers aren’t being replaced by online courses; instead, he said, their jobs won’t be needed if classes are larger. But whatever way you read it, the result is the same: even with attrition, teachers in some districts will likely lose their jobs if Luna’s plan goes forward as proposed.

That’s why teachers from all corners of Idaho turned out for a hearing before the Joint-Finance and Appropriations Committee last week on the Luna plan. One of them, a parent as well as a longtime English instructor, stood up and said his child could not apply to Stanford or Dartmouth because his rural school district only offered some subjects online.

Alarmed, I followed up. I want all Idaho kids to be able to apply to Stanford and Dartmouth if that’s where they want to go.

I called Bob Patterson, Stanford’s director of admissions.

Patterson said if the online class is part of the curriculum at an accredited high school, Stanford will definitely count the class on the student’s transcript.
Patterson acknowledged that the quality of online courses can vary. His office does some research to learn which type the student took.’

“There are online courses that are very engaging and there are others that are not,” he said. Stanford studies the school profile, talks to the guidance counselor, and studies the student’s recommendations.

Stanford itself runs an online high school for gifted students called Education Program for Gifted Youth, or EPGY. The university also gets a lot of applicants with courses from Brigham Young University, a large online course provider.
So, one myth about online courses has been debunked, at least in Stanford’s case. Of course, when it comes to Stanford, putting that online course on a transcript is just one step of many. This year, 34,000 applied for a class of 1,700.

Meanwhile, the response to Luna’s plan did in fact give him pause. His original proposal had called for students to take eight online credits – two per year, starting in ninth grade. After some superintendents balked at the rigidity of that plan, he said, he changed it to six online credits, anytime in the high school years.

About 15,000 Idaho students are already taking online courses.

Luna himself doesn’t do a very good job of vouching for their efficacy.

“I’m assuming that if these courses weren’t beneficial and effective our districts wouldn’t allow them and wouldn’t offer more and more of them to our students,” he told me Feb. 1.

But at least we know they’re good enough for Stanford.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


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  7. Nice try but not the full story on online courses, Ann. There are significant differences in online courses and how and when they are accepted and that should be a part of this story. Patterson’s comment/reply sounded like a general statement with qualifications. Does the Idaho effort meet these qualificatons? We have regular courses from accredited high schools that don’t meet the standards of many universities. A constant complaint from even our in-state universities is that many high school graduates are not prepared/qualified to attend them. Requiring online courses without specifications will only compound this problem. BTW, we also have this problem with students going from community colleges to 4 year institutions.