Limited course offerings hurt students, cost campus millions internal warning shows

Leaked documents paint a bleak picture of UCSB’s over-enrollment struggles

The Office of Undergraduate Education privately recognized over-enrollment struggles students face.

May 6, 2023 at 11:30 am

UC Santa Barbara needs to hire more instructors and increase course offerings to curb over-enrollment issues plaguing students’ academic progress and avoid forfeiting millions of dollars annually, the Office of Undergraduate Education asserted privately October 2022 in documents obtained by the Nexus.

The documents grant insight into the campus administrators’ thought process behind navigating campus’ over-enrollment struggles, and they highlight the millions of dollars in state funding lost as a result of declining course loads and the struggles of students to enroll in the classes they need.

While students have long struggled to enroll in essential classes across UC campuses, UCSB uniquely suffers from “the lowest average unit load per student of all UC campuses, by far,” the documents, dated Oct. 18, 2022, show.

Obtained from the Office of Undergraduate Education

The state expects the average undergraduate to take 15 units per quarter, these documents show. In the past 36 instructional quarters, UCSB only ever reached that average once.

The documents, shared by a source on the condition of anonymity, report data showing that the university’s long-standing over-enrollment issues have only worsened in recent years; average units taken by students fell from 14.7 in 2012 to 13.8 in 2022.

Enrollment analysts told the campus that for classes to allow for mobility in students’s schedules and be considered balanced, they should be enrolled at 80-85% capacity, the documents show. Above 95% capacity, classes are considered overenrolled.

In Fall Quarter 2022, 42% of courses were overenrolled at over 95% capacity, leading UCSB students to register for increasingly fewer units as they jockey for seats in nearly full classes, the documents show.

Enrolling in fewer units “endangers students from satisfying Minimum Cumulative Progress requirements and making timely progress toward degree completion,” according to the documents.

UCSB Spokesperson Kiki Reyes said it has “been a long-standing goal to augment the credit units available to students,” and that the campus is using a number of solutions to help address the situation.

The University of California and the state government count enrollment not by the number of students enrolled at any given campus, but rather via a calculation of the average number of units all students take quarterly across all three academic quarters, known as their instructional load.

This metric determines the amount of state funding the campus receives for students; a higher instructional load yields more money for the campus regardless of how many students are actually enrolled. When students’s average quarterly instructional load dropped from 14.475 in 2020 to 13.815 in 2021, UCSB lost out on $4,762,920 in state funding, despite the actual number of students increasing.

“One solution to this is to hire more instructors to offer more courses,” the Office of Undergraduate Education said in the documents.

Obtained from the Office of Undergraduate Education

Six months after the strategy was suggested, UCSB is laying off a number of lecturers across multiple departments in an unexplained move that instructors said would only worsen the situation.

“The employment situation referenced in an HFA department is not related to this issue,” Reyes said in the statement. “The minor workload reductions planned in some areas–which do not reflect lecturer layoffs–are typically made when faculty or graduate students are available to teach the courses or resources are needed to support other courses.”

Reyes said the documents — created six months ago according to their metadata and the dates displayed on the pages — are “actually almost a year old now and the campus has seen a modest increase in Student FTE.”

The documents include a photo of students standing on a table peering into the window of a Phelps Hall classroom packed with students, taken from a two-year-old Reddit post lamenting overfilled courses.

The office outlined a number of fixes for over-enrollment: increase study abroad opportunities and summer courses, enhance academic advising and review unit value for courses.

One strategy put forward in the documents is the creation of a mandatory one unit orientation course for the purpose of netting more money from the state. If 4,000 students enrolled in such a course, the campus would benefit from an additional $742,756 in state funds, according to the documents.

Increasing the number of “quality online course offerings (NOT remote offerings)” is also a suggestion put forward in the documents; UCSB students take fewer online courses than students at the eight other UC campuses, according to the documents.

The Division of Undergraduate Education is working with the Academic Senate to implement these options listed in the documents and is “exploring several others,” Reyes said.

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the May 4, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Mark Alfred
Mark Alfred (he/him) was the University News Editor for the 2022-23 school year.