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ARCHIVE: Commission hears first round of proposals

This article originally was published March 23, 2010.

A first round of proposals from the UC Commission on the Future includes ideas for increasing enrollment of nonresident students, a three-year undergraduate degree, multiyear fee schedules and exploring more online instruction as ways to help the university navigate a fiscally challenging environment.

The proposals originate from the five working groups of the commission, which are assessing the size and shape of the University of California, its education and curriculum, access and affordability, and funding and research strategies. A report on the working group's proposals was presented to the full commission for public discussion at its meeting today (March 23).

"Some recommendations you may like a lot, some you might think are terrible," said Russell Gould, co-chair of the commission and chair of the UC Board of Regents. "But these are important ideas to put forward."

The UC Commission on the Future'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. The commission, which held its first meeting in September and is co-chaired by UC President Mark Yudof, is drawing on experts from within and outside UC to help formulate its recommendations.

Many of the issues addressed by the working groups require further research and discussion. The commission will consider feedback from the Academic Senate, staff, students and the public over the next two months before presenting prioritized recommendations to the UC Board of Regents for their consideration in July.

"What you're hearing is a brave first take, a rough draft of recommendations that will eventually emerge," Yudof said. "There's likely to be criticism about what has been proposed and has not been proposed today. Not all the ideas will fly, and some will be refined."

Increasing nonresident students

Among other recommendations, a proposal from the size and shape group would increase the number and proportion of undergraduate non-California resident students. More out-of-state students can improve UC by broadening the geographical diversity of the student body and by generating additional revenue that can support California students, according to the size and shape working group's recommendation.

Some conditions are recommended if UC were to admit more nonresidents:

  • The increase in nonresident students should not displace funded resident students.
  • Revenues generated by increased enrollment of nonresident students should be spent on enhancing the educational experience of all students.
  • Admission standards shall be set such that the academic record of nonresident students qualifies them for admission at or above the median of all undergraduate students admitted to that campus.
  • If the plan is implemented, during its first five years, each UC campus — in consultation with the Office of the President — should set its own target for undergraduate non-resident students. Each campus and the university would evaluate its target every five years.

In 2008-09, 4.7 percent of UC's undergraduates paid nonresident tuition. UC has very low proportions of nonresident students compared with other major research universities, both public and private. In a 2007 comparison, public universities in the elite Association of American Universities, of which six UC campuses are members, had 21.9 percent out-of-state students and AAU private institutions had 65.7 percent nonresidents.

The additional revenue generated by nonresident students can enhance the educational experience of all students without unwanted displacement of residents, according to the recommendation.

"It's a matter of scale," said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, co-chair of the size and shape group. Currently, with such a low number of nonresidents, "we can move that number up without displacing residents. Exactly where that number is, we can have an interesting discussion."

Three-year degrees

Streamlining an undergraduate degree to three years would lower costs for obtaining a degree and create space on campuses for additional students.

If 5 to 10 percent of UC students graduated just a quarter or semester earlier, approximately 2,000 to 4,000 undergraduate spots would be freed up, according to the recommendation from the education and curriculum group.

Components of a three-year degree pathway include:

  • Required attendance of summer session courses
  • Full use of advanced placement and other honors credits
  • Offering incentives to entice students to participate, such as priority enrollment and a guarantee of a fixed-fee level for three years.
  • Development of streamlined major programs, advising and registration procedures that would help students graduate in three years.

Graduating in three years may not be viable for many students. In 2005, 905 students, or 2.9 percent of UC's undergraduates, graduated in three years. A formal process could entice more students, and for those who are well-prepared, "This could be the way to go," said Keith Williams, co-chair of the education and curriculum group.

Set fee schedules

Many families with UC students have endured hardships from fee increases in recent years. A multiyear fee schedule would set fees at the same level as the freshman year for the four or five years, the typical time to graduation, with a fixed and predictable cost of living increase each year. This strategy would help families better plan their finances.

While low-income students are helped by financial aid, and higher income students generally can absorb fee increases, "it's really the middle-income families where a change in fees is a big challenge," said UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, co-chair of the access and affordability group. "We think this will help in access and affordability.

The proposal noted that locking in fees for continuing students may result in higher fees for newer students, and the complexity of tracking varying fees could pose a challenge for campuses.

Online courses

Online education has the potential to lower costs and widen access to UC, but taking instruction out of the classroom raises concerns about quality and workload from faculty and others.

Adding more online courses "has a lot of promise and a lot of roadblocks that have to be overcome along the way," said Keith Williams, co-chair of the education and curriculum group.

The education and curriculum work group recommends continued pursuit of a pilot project being coordinated by the UC Office of the President which will develop up to 40 online undergraduate courses to evaluate their quality, learning effectiveness, workload impacts and costs.

"In the long run, (expanded online instruction) will happen at one of the great research universities," Yudof said. "It's just a question of when. I'd like to see UC play a leadership role."

The UC Academic Senate, staff, students and the public will have an opportunity to review and comment on the first round of recommendations over the next two months.

"We are no doubt in a very difficult fiscal time," said Academic Senate Chair Harry Powell, who also is a commission member. "Even in good times this work will be of great value to the institution."