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ARCHIVE: Commission endorses student-focused recommendations

This article originally was published Aug. 31, 2010.

Proposals to increase student financial support and decrease the time to graduate were among a set of recommendations the UC Commission on the Future voted to move forward with today (Aug. 31).

At its meeting at UC San Francisco, the commission also rejected the idea of differential fees, which would allow campuses with high demand to charge more than other campuses. Commission member Dan Simmons, who begins his term as chair of the UC Academic Senate tomorrow (Sept. 1), warned that differential fees would lead to the stratification of campuses, put UC on the path toward privatization and undermine support for public education. The Senate had opposed differential fees.

"Public education is not a private good, it is a public good," Simmons said. "Differential fees are more embedded in the economic model of a profit-making enterprise than it is applicable to the public sector."

Several of the recommendations the commission voted on centered on increasing financial support for students. UC regents will be asked to approve a resolution by November that reaffirms a commitment to the UC Financial Aid Policy, which says that financial considerations must not be an insurmountable obstacle to a student's decision to seek and complete a UC degree. The action would counter the misperception that a UC education is financially out of reach for many and show that funding financial aid remains a top priority.

The commission also agreed to look for ways to streamline procedures and curriculum to increase the proportion of students who graduate in four years or less. It's estimated that if 5 percent to 10 percent of UC undergraduate students graduated one quarter or semester earlier, approximately 2,000 to 4,000 undergraduate spaces would be freed up.

"If the students get through a degree more quickly, obviously it's cheaper for them and their families," said Vice Provost Daniel Greenstein.

The commission also approved a recommendation to increase and set a cap for nonresident undergraduate enrollment. Increasing nonresident enrollment would broaden the geographic diversity of campuses and enhance the student experience while generating additional money that could sustain educational offerings for all students, according to the recommendation. In addition, students often remain in the states where they are educated. Increasing the number of highly qualified nonresident graduates would contribute to California's future cultural, social and economic development, the recommendation said.

"It allows us to help prepare our students for the global economy," said UC Provost Lawrence Pitts, an ex-officio member of the size and shape working group, which proposed the idea. "We believe this is an important group of students that we want to welcome to UC."

The recommendation caps the proportion of nonresident undergraduates systemwide at 10 percent and directs the UC president to report annually to the Board of Regents on the number of nonresident students. The recommendation calls for campuses to set targets for nonresident enrollments at a level that would not displace California high school graduates who are funded by the state. Currently, UC receives no state support for about 15,000 enrolled students.

In fall 2009, about 11,600 — or 6.6 percent — of UC's 177,000 undergraduates were nonresidents. Compared with other major research universities, UC has a low proportion of nonresident students. At other public institutions that are members of the elite Association of American Universities, 22.2 percent of their fall 2009 undergraduates were nonresidents.

The commission's meeting focused on select proposals from its five working groups, which are analyzing the size and shape of UC, its education and curriculum, access and affordability, and funding and research strategies.

The commission's goal is to develop a new vision for the university that affirms its core values of excellence and access while addressing state funding cutbacks. Co-chaired by UC President Mark Yudof and Board of Regents Chairman Russell Gould, the commission was formed last year.

The recommendations discussed today will be included in a draft report that the commission will review during a meeting or teleconference on Oct. 11. A final report is to be presented to the Board of Regents before the end of the year.

Other new recommendations approved for further action by the commission are:

  • Lobby the federal government for "Pell PLUS" funding that would provide support for the core operations of universities that serve the low-income students. The proposal recommends an augmentation to Pell Grants received by low-income students that would fund university operations. Historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving Institutions receive federal money for operations for the role they play in serving low-income students. Other institutions have not received federal help for operations even though public universities actually serve more low-income students, the recommendation said.
  • Have the regents approve a resolution by January 2011 that reaffirms the university's commitment to California Master Plan for Education targets for student enrollment of the top one-eighth of state high school graduates and to enroll enough transfers students to maintain a 60/40 ratio of upper division to lower division students.
  • Develop ways to expand private donations to UC and increase the amount of gifts that can be used for unrestricted uses, such as to support academic operations. Currently, donors restrict 95 percent of UC endowments for use with certain programs or objectives, and of the $1.3 billion raised in 2008-09, only $25 million is unrestricted, according to the recommendation.
  • Increase the proportion of graduate students from 22 percent of total enrollments to 26 percent by 2020-21 as a way to adequately support UC's research and instructional mission. Campuses are to present plans to the UC president to achieve this goal by August 2011.
  • Have UC campuses seek sponsors for new internships, fellowships and visiting professorships as part of their development programs. These programs would enhance the educational experience, augment the expertise of teaching faculty and connect students with potential future employers. The chancellors are to report to the president on the progress of these programs on a yearly basis for the next five years during their annual budget meetings.
  • Work to identify barriers and disincentives that currently exist for multi-campus research and training, and to mitigate those impediments through improvements in policies, processes, technology and facilities. A report by the vice president for research and graduate studies would be due to the president within six months of the adoption of this resolution.
  • Expand efforts with other higher education institutions to advocate for more federal money to fund research. A status report on these initiatives would be provided annually to the regents.

The commission also reviewed proposals discussed at its June 14 meeting.

There was some discussion over the wording of a plan to streamline the community college transfer pathway. The recommendation originally called for the Academic Senate to "submit a plan and timeline to the president, by Dec. 15, 2010, to develop these uniform lower-division major requirements."

Simmons said faculty were concerned that this amounted to a mandate for uniform requirements that encroached on their oversight of academic policy and might be unworkable systemwide.

Commission chair Russell Gould said that this idea "has been studied for decades" and he didn't want a watered-down recommendation.

Streamlining transfer requirements "makes sense, not just for the university, but to students as well," Gould said.

The recommendation's wording is to be reworked to address the concerns expressed and, along with other recommendations approved June 14, will be submitted to the draft report that will be reviewed at the commission's next meeting on Oct. 11.