You might have read earlier this year that the University of California, Berkeley started removing more than 20,000 video and audio lectures from public view that they had made freely available online. Why? It was the result of a Justice Department accessibility order requiring them to make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.
UC Berkeley was one of the colleges in the forefront of posting to YouTube, iTunes U and their own webcast.berkeley.edu site. Accessibility for people with a wide variety of disabilities has been an issue with online courses for many years. Mostly, schools have "gotten away with it" when it comes to following requirements that largely came into focus primarily after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990.
It's curious that the Justice Department’s investigation did not look at how Berkeley actually serves students with disabilities, but only the accessibility of content it offers to the public. As a result of this order the university will also require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them.
This is a scary ruling for other institutions who have been "getting away with it" and now may have to do the same as UC.
All it took was complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, the world's only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students. The employees said that Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.
Unfortunately, to remedy these issues any university would need to implement measures that are very expensive to continue to make these resources available to the public. Since they were offered for free, there is really no business model that applies here other than charity. So, the immediate solution was to make them "inaccessible" to everyone by removing them.
Berkeley can continue to offer massive open online courses on edX. They also plan to create new public content that is accessible.
One concern that many educators have is that this ruling will result in the disappearance of much Open Educational Resources.
The new Secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, was viewed with trepidation by many educators. They see her as an advocate of charter schools and not a champion of K-12 public schools. In higher education, it was unclear what her focus would be because she had no experience in that area.
In her first speeches, community colleges may have felt some relief as she praised community colleges noting their importance to President Trump’s plan of expanding vocational and technical education. While community colleges do provide career and technical education, most also have a mission to provide the foundation for students to transfer to four-year colleges. The views of de Vos and the administration on that are still unclear.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is designed to equip students with skills to prepare them for viable careers in high-growth industries. According to the association for Career and Technical education (ACTE), the top 10 hardest to fill jobs include skilled trade positions. Healthcare occupations make up 12 of the 20 fastest growing occupations. There are one million jobs open in trade, transportation and utilities sectors and more than 300,000 jobs in manufacturing.
Middle-skill jobs that require education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree make up a significant part of the economy and workforce.
But not all of that training requires a college. Career training centers and for-profit groups have taken on many of these skill areas, and that is why college educators fear that de Vos, as with public schools, will be more in favor of that private and for-profit approach rather than colleges.
In her speeches, de Vos did not touch on issues involving transfer students, although many enroll at community colleges planning to eventually transfer to a four-year institution. The themes of her comments match the priorities talked about by the administration and Republican lawmakers (like North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, the chairwoman of the House education and the work force committee) which focus on facilitating vocational education, expanding the number of certificates awarded to students, and putting a greater emphasis on alternatives to the traditional model of a four-year college education.
De Vos noted that President Trump's 100-day action plan includes a call to expand vocational and technical education, and that he has called multiple paths for postsecondary education "an absolute priority" for his Administration.
Those multiple paths are unclear right now, and that uncertainty concerns many educators.