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SAN FRANCISCO— With insistent urging by the governor and in light of a failing online program, the University of California Board of Regents discussed ideas on Wednesday to increase the number of online courses at the UC – but have yet to lay out further concrete plans.
“It’s no secret that (the) UC has hit a wall with regard to traditional instruction methods,” said UC President and ex-officio Regent Mark Yudof at the opening of the meeting. “The finances simply no longer exist to support the old model of instruction in the same ways.”
The regents opened their bimonthly meeting with praise for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget, which would allocate $250 million in increased funding for the UC. Part of the budget, which was released last week, designates $10 million for the UC to develop online courses for undergraduates.
The governor’s proposed increase, however, would still be $25 million short of what the regents had requested in November.
Brown, an ex-officio regent, said during the meeting he is convinced the board needs to expand online education or face other measures, like tuition increases, to avoid a drastic UC budget shortfall. He has been pressing the board for more online education since the regents’ last board meeting.
“Let’s get real. I’m proposing 5 percent more in your budget, you’re proposing 11.6 percent. How do you make up the gap?” Brown asked. “There’s a brute reality out there, it’s called the gap between 5 and 11.6 (percent) growth this year, and the year after that, and the year after that.”
At the meeting, Yudof announced upcoming initiatives to expand online education at the UC. The UC will soon launch an incentive program for UC faculty to develop online courses and, in the fall, UC students can take online courses from different campuses in the UC for credit, he said.
Yudof said the latter would allow the same online course to provide credit for hundreds more students than it would as one traditional course.
Individual UC campuses offered more than 2,500 online courses last year, according to a report from the UC Office of the President. Most of them, however, were through UC Extension programs offered for high school students, adults and others not enrolled in the University.
UC Online – a program launched last year to provide online courses for undergraduate, high-enrollment classes – only developed 13 of the offered courses.
Program officials intended UC Online to pay for itself by raising $7 million from external sources, like private foundations. But the program had only received one grant of $748,000 and the UC had to take out a $6.9 million loan to make up for the shortfall.
UC Online officials had previously planned to bridge the gap by charging students outside the UC $1,400 to $2,400 for the online courses. Only five or six non-UC students have since enrolled in the program, which has enrolled more than 1,700 UC students, said Keith Williams, interim director of UC Online, in an interview with the Daily Bruin.
Officials are currently looking at other ways to bring in revenue, besides enrolling non-UC students, for the financially struggling program, Williams said. UC Online is looking at offering its course development services to other outside programs or entities wishing to develop online education, he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the regents discussed potentially encouraging students to take as many as 10 percent of their courses online in their first two years of college and increasing the number of courses offered by UC Online each year to reduce cost or enhance students’ learning experiences.
“As the online environment has changed over the last six to nine months, we also realized it’s much more difficult to let people understand and see what we offer,” Williams said.
UC officials do not know which funds they will pull from if UC Online is unable to pay off the $6.9 million loan before its seven-year deadline is up, since they are planning to make up the difference with alternate business strategies, said Shelly Meron, a UC spokeswoman.
At the meeting, Aimée Dorr, UC provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, admitted that UC Online’s “progress is slower than anticipated” and said she thinks the program should aim to create more courses each year to be at the forefront of online education.
The few UC students who spoke at the meeting brought up several concerns about the regents embracing the idea of online education and jumping right into discussion.
Olivier Bouan, a UC Berkeley student and chair of UC Berkeley’s Council on Student Fees, said during the public comment period that he was concerned the UC Regents were approaching online courses not as a way to enhance quality of education, but as a budget solution.
Jonathan Stein, UC student regent, also said there was an alarming lack of student input in the regents’ pushing forward with online education discussion.
“No one has asked students if they’re actually interested in this,” Stein said at the meeting.
Regents board chair Sherry Lansing reminded the board that these discussions are only an “exploration” of online education’s potential and nothing is set in stone.
The regents agreed to continue discussing online courses at future board meetings, said Brooke Converse, UC spokeswoman.
Contributing reports by Kevin Truong, Bruin contributor.
Correction: Aimée Dorr is UC provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.