Wednesday, December 8, 2010

UCLA Embraces Growth, but there is a Catch

In an Inside Higher Ed article, I argued that the way out of the current financial problems facing American universities is to increase undergraduate enrollments. I made this argument because not only do we need more college graduates to fuel our economy, but high university enrollments decrease the ranks of the unemployed and help to train people for the new economy. Moreover, I have shown how undergraduate students generate huge profits for universities, and this revenue can be used to support research, graduate education, and community service. I have also exposed how research grants and endowment gifts often end up costing universities more money than these unstable external sources of funding collect. Finally, I have stresses how the profit-making units usually refuse to share their revenue and often survive through hidden subsidies.

Given this stress on the need to increase undergraduate enrollments, I should applaud UCLA’s decision to bring in an additional 2,500 nonresident undergraduate students in the next few years; however, the campus’ plan poses several problems. The first issue is that while the school expects to rake in $55 million in new tuition revenue, it does not have any stated plans to spend more funds on instruction and student services. In fact, senior administrators have argued that since the undergraduate College already has an $80 million deficit, all of the additional income will be used to help balance the budget. In other words, there will be more students, but no additional resources, and this comes during a time when the size of the teaching faculty has already been reduced.

Another complicating factor is that UCLA intends to concentrate on bringing in new students from China and India because these students pay full tuition and receive no financial aid. Once again, we have to ask how these students will succeed if the campus does not increase the number of ESL classes and other needed student services. Also, there still remains the sticky problem of how will students be able to graduate in a timely fashion if UCLA brings in many more students but has fewer classes and fewer teachers. It appears that these potential international students are seen as a source of needed income, but steps are not being taken to make sure they receive a high quality educational experience. In the next few months, we will be pushing the administration to make sure that added revenue from student tuition finds its way into the classroom.

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