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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Bad Idea, and a Better One

The Dean of the Berkeley Law School presented a pseudo-visionary idea in an op-ed yesterday in the LAT. It reads as follows:
It is time for an 11th University of California campus: a cyber-campus devoted to awarding online degrees to UC-eligible students.

No budgetary alchemy will allow us to educate the state's future university students in the same way we do now but with less money. The budget cuts caused by the state economic crisis are real and huge, leaving two choices. Educators can do less with less, or we can explore new ways of providing value to California and the nation by doing more -- albeit differently -- with less.

UC XI would have selective admissions; tuition somewhere between community college and the on-campus UC price, part-time and "anytime" options and lectures by the best faculty from the entire UC system. Our online students might miss the keg parties, but they would have the same world-class faculty, UC graduate student instructors and adjunct faculty.

We have the social networking technologies to support student interactions with instructors and each other. Science laboratories could be provided on weekends, at night or during summers, and not exclusively on UC campuses. The faculty can develop powerful academic controls to guarantee UC-caliber instruction and learning.

There are examples of failure in online instruction, but none involved degree-granting instruction by a premier institution with the kind of market appeal that UC campuses enjoy not just in Barstow but in Bangor and Beijing. Moreover, there are some important success stories. Britain's government-funded Open University, begun 40 years ago, offers some lectures in partnership with the BBC. It claims 5% of Britain's adult population has taken at least one of its courses, and it ranks second in student satisfaction out of 258 British institutions, with high marks from government inspectors too. Closer to home, many talented Californians opt for the pricier online University of Phoenix over our public four-year campuses, presumably for convenience and schedules -- or because of our shortage of seats.

Five years ago, when I became dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, I worried that California leaders were no longer committed to having a world-class university, especially law schools. Nowhere is it decreed that a state must challenge the best private universities, though California was proudly unique in that regard. But a generation of stingy state investment suggests that the goal of "world-class K-16 education for all" has become, simply, "better than Mississippi."

We still have unsurpassed excellence, but it is now rationed and increasingly threatened. The higher education master plan's bold promise of access for the many has been shredded in slow motion. We've had decades of increasing dysfunction in Sacramento and smoldering doubts in some quarters about the value of supporting public education. Now comes the resulting surge in victims -- present and future -- in families and throughout the economy.

Many thoughtful people recognize the importance of education to the state's greatness, but President Obama's call for expanding post-secondary education sounds otherworldly to mid-crisis Californians. Based on data from the census and the National Center for Education Statistics, the state is 49th in the percentage of high school graduates going on to degree-granting colleges. So, employers must import higher-end workers, and Californians have comparatively fewer opportunities for the education that builds middle-class security and prosperity.

The UC XI cyber-campus could be a way to put high-quality higher education within reach of tens of thousands more students, including part-timers, and eventually provide a revenue boost for higher education.

A new California master plan should define and deliver state-of-the-art online education. There are scores of tough questions to be answered, and business plans to be drafted and redrafted. But every cliche about a crisis tells us that the best offense is often innovation.
I replied as follows:
Dear Chris

Nice - $42k for Berkeley law and online learning for the undergraduate masses!

I assume that you were using online learning as a Trojan horse for getting your valuable stats in about California decline - thank you for that.

But I do wish you would have written something like the text below. I've cced President Yudof because it would obviously be more appropriate coming from him.

There would be major political risks here, but how much worse does it have to get for the non-professional schools before UC takes some political risks?

"I arrived as Dean at Berkeley Law School a few years ago, looked at the budget, and realized that falling state support was hurting a great public law school. What did I do? Like any responsible administrator, I looked for new revenue streams to maintain the income we needed to preserve existing quality and meet new challenges.

"I rapidly came to understand that the only sufficient revenue stream was tuition. Thus at Berkeley Law we now charge $42,294.50. per year, basically the same as Michigan and Stanford. We offer no discount for in-state students. That , my fellow California citizens, is the effect of your politicians' choices.

"Now the same thing is happening to undergraduate education. The state cut our general fund budget 40% between 1990 and 2005, and now 20% in the current two-year cutting frenzy. To maintain UC's quality, which is our professional obligation, and to replace dollar-for-dollar the public funds cut by the Governor's and the legislature's budget, we will raise in-state fees $5000 in 2009-10, to about $14,000. We will be forced to raise tuition - with matching financial-aid - each future year in proportion to the cuts

"I would like to avoid this vicious cycle. I personally oppose this policy of massive tuition hikes. I cherish the public status of Berkeley Law School and of UC. But the Governor and the legislature have put a gun to our head. Unless you, the public, get them to put the gun down, we will raise tuition as they are forcing us to do."

or words to that effect.

Best wishes, Chris


Toby Higbie said...

The University of Illinois has tried something like this with its "Global Campus: http://global.uillinois.edu/

Faculty fought it pretty hard, and I thought they killed it. But it appears to be up and running to some extent now.

I'm not opposed to online education done well. But you need to watch the money flow with these proposals. Global Campus at Illinois was really an effort to get around faculty control of the curriculum in order to vacuum in tuition revenue to central administration.

Chris Newfield said...

yes exactly - well put!

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