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ARCHIVE: Regents endorse commission report

This article originally was published Dec. 13, 2010.

The Board of Regents voted today (Dec. 13) to endorse the principles of the final report from the UC Commission on the Future, which was created to develop a new vision that preserves excellence and access as the university navigates the state's fiscal crisis.

"This report is not about just the future of the university, it's ultimately about the future of California," said UC President Mark Yudof, who co-chaired the commission. "If this state is to have an innovation-based economy, we need to take action because a major driver of that economy will be the University of California along with the California State University and the community colleges."

Yudof and UC Board of Regents Chairman Russell Gould created the commission last year in response to state funding cutbacks and served as co-chairs. The 20 recommendations in the commission's final report are in five broad categories: teaching and curriculum, undergraduate enrollment and access, research and graduate education, fiscal discipline and administrative reform, and advocacy and other measures. The regents voted 16 to 2 to endorse the report.

"We're hopeful that these changes will move us along in addressing some of these financial challenges while upholding our principles," Gould told the board.

In addition to the 20 recommendations, the report contains contingency recommendations that the commission did not endorse but said might be necessary should the financial situation worsen. These include curtailing enrollment, reducing the faculty and staff work force and reducing financial aid support.

"These are steps that really no one wants to take," Yudof said, noting that the commission was at least obligated to look at them. "I, for one, don't think that you can shrink a university into greatness."

The recommendations were developed over the past year from the work of the commission's five working groups, feedback from campus listening tours and public forums, and comments received through the commission's website.  These recommendations offer responses to the university's near- to mid-term challenges while preserving critical components of quality and access, according to the report. Many of the recommendations offer suggestions for educating students and operating more efficiently, including:

  • Adopting strategies to enable more students to earn a bachelor's degree in four years or less and creating a pathway for a three-year degree.
  • Developing ways to streamline the transfer pathway to UC for community college students.
  • Continuing to explore expanded use of online instruction.
  • Increasing the enrollment of nonresident undergraduate students and capping their number.
  • Expediting systemwide administrative reforms already under way that could save $500 million annually.
  • Making efforts to recover more of the indirect costs generated by federal grants and contracts.

Other proposals call for strengthening the research infrastructure and graduate student involvement, redoubling fundraising efforts, expanding public advocacy for UC and reaffirming UC's commitment to its obligations under the state Master Plan for Higher Education.

The report notes that state funding has been on a steady decline and not kept pace with inflation and enrollment growth. However, UC continues to meet its Master Plan requirement to provide a place for California residents in the top one-eighth of each graduating high school class and spots for eligible state community college transfer students.

In addition, UC faces rising costs over the next decade that will add nearly $5 billion to its core operating expenditures. These include restart of retirement contributions, employee benefits, bargaining unit contracts and investments in academic, technological and infrastructure improvements.

"There's no silver bullet that will close a gap of this magnitude," said Nathan Brostrom, UC's executive vice president for business operations, who presented the regents with an overview of the fiscal situation the university faces.
In the late 1980s, more than 5 percent of the state's general fund was dedicated to UC, but by 2009-10, the share had declined to 3.1 percent, the report said. UC enrolls about 11,500 students for whom the state provides no funding.

Encouraging a shorter time to a degree would enable UC to educate students more efficiently. If 5 to 10 percent of students graduated one quarter or semester sooner, it would create an additional 2,000 to 4,000 undergraduate slots per year, according to UC estimates.

Streamlining the pathway for transfer students has the potential for minimizing the number of excess classes students take, which could also improve time to degree and free up resources for more students.

Plans to develop more common systemwide lower-division degree requirements and to reduce other barriers to transferring have been under way. The commission's recommendation calls for expanding these efforts.

Internet-based education also holds the potential to reduce costs, and the commission endorsed the exploration of more online instruction. The commission supports a pilot project coordinated by the UC Office of the President that is assessing expanded online instruction.

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 commission's recommendation.

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.

Each recommendation includes specific assignments, deadlines and follow-up reports. Recommendations involving instruction, curriculum, academic personnel and research cannot be enacted without the assistance of the UC Academic Council, divisional senates and faculty committees.