University of California: Bold Reform Missing So Far

Can the players in the University of California financial crisis agree on the sort of bold reforms needed to save it from its fiscal crisis?

So far it doesn’t look like it. The University of California’s Commission on the Future released its first recommendations yesterday and one of the ex-officio commission members called them “admittedly bland.”

Here are some of the UC’s tepid recommendations:

  • Encourage more students to graduate in three years.
  • Create a pilot project to offer 30 to 40 classes online system-wide to help overcrowding.
  • Pursue greater private fund-raising.
  • Double the number of out-of-state students, who pay significantly higher tuition, from 7,600 to 15,200.
  • Increase UC tuition from 5% to 15%, but adopt a multi-year fee schedule to help parents.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education observed that these sorts of changes, in light of the University of California’s desperate financial situation, are nickel-and-dime stuff. More substantial changes, such as making a serious push for online classes for undergrads or letting the campuses set their own tuition schedules, wasn’t touched. And here’s one I’d suggest:  make professors teach more classes.

Key Challenge for the University of California….

The University of California is trying to resolve this crisis through a series of committees. Instead of a top-down approaches from the administration – which admittedly isn’t popular – all the parties in this fight are trying to protect their own turf.

Ideas to fundamentally alter how the system works have met many roadblocks, including divisions between faculty members and administrators and competing priorities among the system’s 10 campuses.

“The only thing that the university seems to be decisive about is making sure the commission is structured so nobody’s ox is going to get gored,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

The University of California is going to have to change the way its educates its students and I’m sure the hard decisions it faces will be experienced by other state university systems in the future. The biggest hurdle would seem to be realizing that bold reform is necessary – now.

In the Chronicle article, here’s what Lawrence H Pitts, the system’s interim provost, had to say about the UC’s challenge:

In some respects the university’s storied history makes people resistant to tinker with the existing model, even as the foundations of the model that has sustained the university since the 1960s are taken away.

“It’s awfully easy to say, We’ve been good in the past; why would we change in the future?”  A major challenge “is to get people to buy in that some kind of change is happening, whether we like it or not. With or without us, change is afoot. So how do you take into account that reality and shape the future of the university?”

Can all the players in the University of California financial crisis agree on the sort of bold reforms needed to save it from its fiscal crisis?

As someone who lives in California and who is married to a proud UC Berkeley grad, I wish the prospects more encouraging.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

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  1. My daughter was just accepted to UCLA in their Musical Theatre Program-We live out- of state. The price tag- $53,000 per year!! NO financial aid was offered outside of telling us to get loans!

    This was her dream school, but I’m afriad UC is not going to get any of our money!

    1. Vicky,

      I think you made a wise decision. UCLA is certainly not worth $53,000 a year. The price is even crazier considering the UC’s financial crisis. UCLA and the other elite UC’s are accepting more out-of-state students this year because of the fat tuition they can charge them.

  2. I think Christopher Edley (Dean of Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law) has been advocating online learning for a few years now. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I feel about this. I know we need to do something to save our beloved UCs and change is hard, but I’m not sure about undergraduate education becoming more online. It certainly would widen the gap and heighten the differences between small liberal arts colleges and big public schools — to be sure. Combine that with an abbreviated curriculum, and I wonder if we aren’t talking about a different kind of bachelor’s degree altogether…

    1. I think we are looking at a different type of bachelor’s degree in the future at many state universities. I highly recommend that you read a fascinating essay on this topic that a policy wonk at the Education Sector wrote entitled, College for $99 a Month.

      Thanks for visiting my blog.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy