At first, it will just be a pilot program with just a few dozen credit-bearing courses offered online. Then if successful, the University of California system could start offering some online undergraduate degrees.
The pitch will be made at this week's Board of Regents meeting.
"There are no prestigious, elite selective great universities offering online education," UC Vice Provost Daniel Greenstein said. "There's an opportunity to enhance the quality of the brand by demonstrating that we can do it not just right, but really well."
Some campuses, like UCLA and Berkeley, already offer online courses, but they are mostly through the extension arm.
In these tight budget times, online degrees could be a way to serve more students who are already crammed in classrooms or completely shut out of classes.
University of Massachusetts has one of the most successful online degree programs, reporting a 20 percent increase in revenue and a 14 percent enrollment growth. But UMass is no UC.
And that is what worries some students -- while they embrace technology, they feel the prestige of a UC degree would diminish if online degrees were to be offered.
"The degree doesn't actually reflect the amount of work, the intelligence someone actually put the hard work, to go through a UC education," student George Jeung said.
Professors, too, say there is still value in learning the old-fashioned way.
"The classroom experience is best; the learning, experience, the exchange of ideas between live people," English Literature Prof. Winfried Schleiner said.
But Thomas Maxwell thinks the classroom experience can be overrated. He is taking a summer online course from a school in Utah because UC Davis stopped offering a science class he needed; he likes it.
"I can remember freshman chemistry -- it's the professor and 500 students. If you think you're going to get to ask a question, it's probably not going to happen," Maxwell said.
UC says it will make sure the system's prestige is not hurt. For now, administrators hope to raise $6 million in private donations for the pilot program, with an eye on possible online degrees in the future.