The University of California's Board of Regents at its meeting Jan. 19 reviewed the state's Master Plan for Higher Education and discussed the importance of investing in graduate education to help keep California competitive.
M.R.C. Greenwood, UC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, told the board that the 1960 Master Plan -- a framework of policies outlining the modern structure and responsibilities of California's public higher education system -- continues to provide important guidance 45 years after its inception.
"Just because something is old doesn't mean it isn't good or effective," said Greenwood. "The Master Plan is an evolving document and has been continually analyzed throughout the years. Each review has reaffirmed its core tenets and goals of access, affordability, equity and quality."
Greenwood said the Master Plan has been very successful in providing broad access to a college education for Californians and in providing the underpinnings of economic growth for the state. But she called attention to a number of ongoing challenges at UC associated with the Master Plan, including maintaining its promise of affordability and fulfilling its commitments to quality and access amid shrinking state financial support for public education.
The Master Plan provides UC with a specific role as the state's primary research and doctoral degree-granting institution, in addition to its other responsibilities in teaching and public service. With that in mind, the Regents discussed the importance of graduate education in fueling innovation and economic development in California, attracting high-caliber faculty and contributing to UC's research and teaching missions.
Greenwood, who spoke on the state of graduate education in the UC system, referred Regents to a report on the subject that was completed in 2001. That report, titled "Innovation and Prosperity at Risk: Investing in Graduate Education to Sustain California's Future" (see PDF
) was developed by a commission of representatives from throughout the UC system, including Zach Hall, then executive vice chancellor at UCSF. But the report was largely overshadowed by national events since the Regents were supposed to discuss it two days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, she noted. Among the commission's major findings was that the"gap between current job growth and the supply of future skilled workers puts California's prosperity at risk."
The report projected that by 2010, UC would need an additional $215 million annually to provide the graduate student support, such as teaching and research assistantships, fellowships and internships, needed to add 11,000 graduate students. Greenwood noted that while UC has made progress since the commission's report in increasing doctoral student financial aid levels, the University still lags behind its competitors in the dollar value of financial aid offered. Therefore, greater financial support for graduate students is still needed if UC is to be competitive for the best students who are often lured to other universities by better offers.
UC President Robert C. Dynes, who has launched a long-term planning initiative for the University, said improving support for graduate education is one of several early themes to emerge from the effort. As UC undergraduate enrollments have grown to meet the demands of population growth, enrollments in UC graduate programs have stayed largely flat in recent decades, with the exception of an increase in the last few years.
"This has been a cause of concern for us," said Dynes, who added that renewed attention to graduate education is essential in the years ahead.
"If we look at UC's undergraduate population and graduate population, it looks to be disproportionate," he said. "That's pretty clear compared with other research universities in the state, in the country, in the world."
While the quality of UC's graduate programs is high, graduate students represent about 23 percent of UC's total enrollment. That proportion of total UC enrollment is down from 30 percent in 1958, a decrease which is partly due to the growing number of undergraduates enrolled in the UC system. "This is a problem that could become a crisis," Greenwood told the Regents.
Greenwood also cited new barriers to international graduate students coming to the US. Based on preliminary estimates, UC has seen a roughly 21 percent decline in applications from international students this year, a result that may be due in part to changes in immigration laws and heightened security measures, she noted.
Graduate education programs are especially important to the overall quality of the University because graduate students are key members of UC research teams and help mentor undergraduates as teaching assistants. Graduate seminars, Greenwood added, are often the forums for developing new fields, such as the case with women's studies.
Regent Richard Blum sounded an alarm about the trend of losing top-notch graduate students to other universities. "This clearly is a hot-button issue," he said. "You have a problem when you're starting to lose your best students. When you lose your best students, you start losing faculty."
Graduate programs are key stimulators of the economy, which is increasingly dependent on discoveries in biotechnology, electronics and multimedia, to name a few, Greenwood explained.
"Graduate education provides the highly educated work force that will help California retain its position as a leading economic force in the world," she said. "California's competitiveness requires UC quality."
The next steps for UC are to assess the long-term strategy of graduate education, improve the balance of graduate and undergraduate students at UC, attract more diverse students and strengthen national and international competitiveness of graduate programs, Greenwood said.
Greenwood is expected to give a report on the state of graduate education in health sciences at the Regents' meeting in March.
Graduate Education at UC – Investing in California's Future