Searching for options: UC online program offers high school students alternatives amid coronavirus disruption

For students frustrated by coronavirus-triggered school closures and looking to complete high school graduation and college admission requirements online, the UC Scout program seeks to fill the gaps .

UC Scout is an online supplemental education program that offers high school courses that students can take to meet the Agriculture requirements, a sequence of courses that must be taken for admission to the University of California systems or California State University.

Launched in 1999 as UC College Prep, UC Scout is affiliated with and funded by the UC System’s Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships Program. It transitioned to its current name and format in 2012, accommodating students ranging from “study-driven to those in need of remediation,” said Priscilla Marino, outreach coordinator for UC Scout. It offers 65 courses, 26 of which are Advanced Placement College Board-approved.

Courses are filtered through three planes. Two of them, basic and more, are aimed at secondary school teachers and offer programs ranging from “video lesson content and additional material to support the teaching of physical schools” to a “hybrid virtual model with tests and related quizzes,” Marin said.

Basic plans and above are free for public schools and teachers across California (private and out-of-state schools can purchase the hardware).

Marino said the third, on-demand plan is designed for students whose high schools don’t offer tutoring or who are looking to “make their applications more competitive or maybe get into whatever major they want.” . Students enroll in a UC Scout course independently and “need only their school’s involvement if they want high school credit for the transcript or need AP credit to graduate. This plan is paid but includes an instructor and lesson credit.

Although UC admissions offices do not necessarily give preference to students who have taken courses with UC Scout, Marino said the courses meet “the minimum ag requirement for admission considerations.”

Lilly Grunski, a junior from La Jolla High School, said she loves UC Scout for the flexibility it offers.

“It’s really helpful to know how you can design your own curriculum in a certain way,” she said. “I love how you can go as fast or slow as you want.”

Lilly, who is enrolled in UC Scout’s AP Environmental Science course with plans to add AP Human Geography, enrolled in March just after her school closed to in-person classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I just thought, ‘Why not make the most of…all that extra time,'” she said. [the class], but I didn’t have room for it in my school schedule. I want my transcript to look as good as possible.

The UC Scout program has seen a surge in enrollment due to pandemic-related school closures. Scout’s executive director, Ehren Koepf, who noted that student numbers had grown steadily over the past few years, said enrollment had “increased by 240% compared to the same period last year”.

Koepf expects the influx to increase further as students gain “equitable access to computers and the internet” and “spend the remainder of the spring semester.” He also expects the increase to continue through the summer.

San Diego County Public School Officials Say blended learning – a combination of online learning with students physically attending school for part of the week – is the “most likely scenario” once students return to campuses later this year. This is
as there will not be enough room in many schools for adequate physical distancing.

Blended learning could be the norm for a year and a half until a coronavirus vaccine is developed and widely used, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

UC Scout English teacher Karsten Barnes is pictured during an online lecture.


Karsten Barnes, who teaches English classes for UC Scout’s on-demand program from Long Beach and has helped develop English classes for core programs and beyond, said motivation and organization are important qualities for students transitioning from traditional learning to distance learning.

“Online students need to be more motivated because a teacher doesn’t micromanage them,” he said.

Additionally, Barnes said, “being able to defend yourself, being able to show initiative or say ‘I need help'” is an important skill.

There is no application process for Scout, and prerequisites do not require documentation, Marino said.

Barnes, who worked for Scout for the last seven years of his 19 years as an educator, said he was “excited about the direction Scout is taking. We are a viable option. It may take some time before you can return to your normal school settings. We’re here for you.

For more information, visit

The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.

Karen O. Fielding