If you were hoping to get your Pot Studies degree, you’re out of luck.
A community college in Oregon is offering students the opportunity to learn all about weed—but contrary to misleading marketing, the courses won’t earn the student an official college certificate.
The classes offered by Columbia Gorge Community College, which are billed as “certificates,” do not earn credit from the school and are not state-recognized educational credentials, The Oregonian/OregonLive noted. The eight-week cannabis manufacturing, retail and cultivation courses are offered entirely online by for-profit company Green Flower, which bills itself as “the cannabis industry’s most trusted training provider”. Each course costs $800 and Columbia Gorge takes half of the profits.
Touting the classes as “certificates” in a press release was a mistake, said Dan Spatz, the college’s director of capital projects and community relations.
In Oregon, certificates and degree programs must be approved by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. The commission says it has not approved a cannabis education certificate at the Columbia Gorge, nor has it received proposals for a cannabis certificate or degree programs from other Oregon public colleges or universities.
“We didn’t do this through the Higher Education Coordinating Commission in Oregon, and we can’t and shouldn’t call it a certificate,” Spatz said. “At our level, we should call it a course.”
Spatz said the college is revising the language of its materials and has scheduled a call with Green Flower later this month to discuss adjusting the terminology. Courses are advertised as “Certificates” on a website operated by Green Flower, which includes the Columbia Gorge logo, address and colors. Spatz said Green Flower is the only group that can make changes to the language on this site.
“We will ask Green Flower to at least add a disclaimer or use different language,” Spatz said.
Green Flower operates online cannabis programs through 19 universities and 16 community colleges across the country, said Daniel Kalef, the company’s vice president of higher education. One university — in California — is currently offering college loans, Kalef said.
Kalef said Green Flower is committed to bridging the education gap in an industry “that’s still a bit wild west”. Green Flower’s courses were developed with input from cannabis industry professionals and are accredited by a private multidisciplinary accreditation body called ANSI, Kalef said.
Though students who pass through Green Flower don’t earn college credit, they do earn a “digital badge,” which Kalef says signals employers that the students have been trained in various aspects of cannabis cultivation and production.
“If you want to work as a welder on a construction site, there are certifications you can get…that don’t exist in the (cannabis) industry,” Kalef said. “We’re working for it, we’re pushing for it, but at this point it really doesn’t.”
Offering non-credit programs helps keep tuition costs down, Kalef said, and enables education in the industry at a time when many schools are nervous about offering classes on cannabis because the product is illegal at the federal level .
Columbia Gorge is Green Flower’s first partner in Oregon.
“A large part of our college’s mission is to respond to the skill needs of industry in our region,” said college president Marta Yera Cronin in a press release published by Columbia Community Connection. “Now that cannabis cultivation has become part of our region’s economy, we need to provide essential skills not only to new entrepreneurs, but also to consumers and anyone whose career intersects with the cannabis industry.”
The cannabis courses are similar to the online courses Columbia Gorge offers through Ed2Go, a for-profit platform that offers non-credit courses in things like grant writing, computer science and information technology, Spatz said. These courses are clearly marketed as non-credit offerings. Several other Oregon colleges also offer courses through the platform.
Online platforms allow colleges to offer courses they couldn’t run on their own, Spatz said. Columbia Gorge would need between 12 and 30 students to cover the tuition costs for a class, depending on the subject area. The college estimates it earns less than $10,000 a year from online classes through Ed2Go, Spatz said.
Registration for Green Flower’s online courses has just opened, Kalef said, and he has no figures on how many students have enrolled.
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Sami Edge covers higher education for The Oregonian. You can reach them at [email protected] or (503) 260-3430.