University of California explores major, long-term changes

A bachelor's degree in three years. An online university. Admitting more out-of-state students.

A University of California commission is considering radical, long-term changes to the state's premier institution of public higher education. Meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, UC's "Commission on the Future" heard a first set of recommendations that ranged from continuing steep annual fee increases to allowing each of the 10 UC campuses to charge different rates.

"Some of the recommendations you may like a lot. Some you may think are terrible," commission co-chairman Russell Gould said as the meeting began. "We have a financial imperative for us to be looking at options on how we operate."

UC's governing Board of Regents created the commission last summer in response to deep budget cuts from the state. The commission of students, faculty, and business and labor leaders is charged with suggesting ways to make UC more efficient while maintaining its top-tier ranking. The commission will consider a host of changes before forwarding a final set of suggestions to regents for approval in the fall.

"There is likely to be criticism of what's proposed today and what hasn't been proposed today," said UC President Mark Yudof, co-chairman of the commission. "All I can say is this is just part of a healthy process of airing ideas in difficult economic circumstances."

In the past 19 years, state funding for UC has dropped an inflation-adjusted 54 percent while what students pay toward their education has tripled, said Nathan Brostom, a UC executive vice president.

"We are soon approaching the time when the contribution from students … will outpace the contribution from the state," Brostrom said.

The commission heard recommendations on how UC could bring in more money, like raising fees for California students 15 percent a year so that in five years it would cost more than $20,000 annually to attend UC.

Victor Sanchez, president of the UC Student Association and a member of the commission, said steep fee hikes amounted to "taxation without adequate representation."

"When I look at tuition going up to $13,000 or $20,000, very frankly it's outrageous," Sanchez said.

He also raised questions about the impact of increasing the number of out-of-state students, asking if it would allow the university to continue admitting the top 12.5 percent of California students, as called for by the state's master plan for higher education.

Out-of-state students make up less than 6 percent of UC undergraduates, according to the commission's report.

The commission also heard suggestions on how UC could become more efficient, like an online education program that could enroll students from several UC campuses.

"Faculty are generally accepting of online instruction when it supplements face-to-face instruction. They are a lot more skeptical when it is fully online," said Keith Williams, an associate professor at UC Davis.

One suggestion that appeared popular is creating a fee schedule that looks four years into the future, so that each freshman class would know how much their entire education would cost.

The commission will hold its next meeting on May 7.