The UC Board of Regents discussed graduation rates, student-faculty ratios and other university-wide issues at yesterday’s board meeting, while UC workers of the labor union AFSCME 3299 protested outside the meeting at the Sacramento Convention Center.
The meeting came to a halt when 13 people protesting inside the conference room were arrested for suspicion of unlawful assembly, while the regents cleared the room. Later in the meeting, the board discussed oversight of Department of Energy Laboratories, general finance issues and various concerns surrounding the University’s overall educational policy, specifically graduation times.
UC graduation rates have drawn much attention recently, as Gov. Jerry Brown has made several attempts to get UC students graduating at faster rates.
The governor’s budget, released Tuesday, left out his proposal to cap the number of units California resident students can take while still paying in-state tuition. But at yesterday’s meeting, he remained adamant students spend fewer years at the University.
During the Committee on Educational Policy, UC Provost Aimée Dorr presented data indicating UC students are actually graduating in fewer years than in the past, with more UC students graduating in four-year periods than in five or six year-periods.
However, Dorr noted that while UC students are graduating in less time than students at comparable public universities nationwide, they are still graduating at slower rates than students at comparable private universities.
Gov. Brown voiced concern with the lagging rates, questioning why a student would take longer than the expected four years.
“Now I will say I don’t get excited about six years. To me, four years is the norm,” Brown said. “The six year thing — when did it become normative? . . . I don’t know if it’s about the money or if people like getting their grades up.”
Board Chair Sherry Lansing and Dorr both said students are oftentimes unable to uphold the financial burden of rising tuition costs and still graduate within the expected four-year span.
“When I visited all the campuses … I often heard from students that were on financial aid … that they had two to three jobs,” Lansing said. “So, to ask someone who is working half the week at another job to finish in the four years, is perhaps just too high a burden.”
Many board members concurred that underrepresented minority students, low-income students and first-generation college students may make up a considerable portion of students who take more years to graduate, due to the additional economic and social strains facing these students.
UC President Mark Yudof pointed to “degree complexity,” saying UCLA has a tendency to hold too high a number of prerequisites for some majors, while Lansing pointed to the prestige of individual campuses, suggesting students at universities like UCLA and UC Berkeley may be more accustomed to a larger “work load” than other UC students.
However, Regent Eddie Island said improving graduation times could actually make the University less accessible.
“I believe there is data there that would suggest we can substantially improve time to graduation if we become more selective,” Island said. “Smarter kids can graduate faster. We know that. But that isn’t what we want, necessarily.”
Instead of such an adjusted admission process, Island said university officials should look to other solutions like increasing scholarship opportunities or faculty. But even with these proposals, he insisted the University not focus solely on graduation rates.
“I would hope that we stay focused on a larger mission, which is to provide high quality education to the largest number of qualified students in the state,” Island said.
UC President Mark Yudof, who will end his term this August, presented a special report titled the “State of the University of California,” in which he outlined the UC’s overall status with regard to the system’s budget, admissions and research.
“I’ve tried to outline the good, the bad and the ugly, and there’s some of each,” Yudof said. “For my part anyhow, the numbers do underscore the University’s truly rare defining goal to serve … disadvantaged and low-income students, while also producing research of world-class quality.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF Kenneth Song
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the May 16th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.