The Senate Source

June 2013

Report Details Trends for Faculty Workload and UC Performance Outcomes

Does it feel as if you are teaching more students in larger classes than just a few years ago? Not everyone in Sacramento thinks so, but a report presented in May to The Regents and Governor suggests you are not alone.

The May 15 discussion item on academic performance indicators and instructional workload shows that after six years of budget cuts UC faculty are teaching more students and more credit hours than ever before. In fact, since 2005-06, the student-faculty ratio and the number of undergraduate student credit hours taught per ladder rank faculty member increased by approximately 10%. The increases since 1990 have been more profound: a 17.5% rise in the student-faculty ratio and a 13% increase in the number of undergraduate student credit hours taught per faculty member. Ladder rank faculty hiring has slowed considerably since 2005-06 and is expected to remain flat, while enrollment models predict a 10% increase in student credit hours in the next five years, meaning that faculty can expect a 10% increase in the student-faculty ratio and faculty workload over that period.

Systemwide Senate leaders and Provost Aimée Dorr’s office began preparing the instructional workload presentation several months ago, after State officials suggested that UC faculty should teach at least one additional course per year to help increase graduation rates.

“The Governor wants faculty to teach more, and inevitably, given current enrollment and hiring trends, we will be teaching more,” said Senate Chair Robert Powell. “Student numbers will continue to increase, but the number of faculty will grow slowly, if at all. The average age of faculty is rising and campuses lack resources to hire replacements to keep pace with separations. UC must figure out how to teach the additional credit hours with the existing number of ladder rank faculty, or rely on additional lecturers and adjuncts.”

Chair Powell says it was crucial to clarify for government officials that the number of courses taught is not a meaningful or appropriate measure of faculty workload. The best measure, used by most colleges and universities, calculates credit hours per faculty, by dividing total student credit hours (the number of students in a course multiplied by the number of credits the class is worth) by total faculty.

After the initial release of the Governor’s long-term funding and performance plan for higher education, the presentation to the Regents was supplemented with a broader range of performance data assembled by the UC Budget Office to address questions and concerns raised by elements of the plan. The Governor’s plan proposed tying four years of general fund increases for UC and CSU to 10% increases in transfer admission, degree production, four-year completion rates, and other outcomes. The “May Revise” of the Governor’s budget did not include these detailed targets, but UC has been told that measurable goals are still being developed. In addition, UC will forfeit its general fund increase if it raises tuition.

Some faculty are concerned that by tying a narrow set of outcomes to punitive budget actions, the Governor’s original plan would motivate campuses to take actions that would reduce quality or increase selectivity to the detriment of underrepresented groups. Chair Powell says he supports the need for accountability and shares the general goals of improving completion and time-to-degree rates, but he emphasizes that the principal objective of the faculty is to foster educational access, quality, and student success and an educational experience where knowledge can be pursued freely, not simply to graduate more students, more quickly, in an assembly line manner.

At the Regents meeting, Provost Dorr described the steady, long-term progress UC has made in improving the measures identified by the Governor, particularly compared to other American Association of Universities (AAU) public institutions. For example, she noted that UC’s graduation and time-to-degree outcomes have improved over the last two decades for students who entered as freshmen and transfers. UC has increased both its six-year and four-year graduation rates since 1992. UC’s six-year rate (83%) now exceeds the AAU public university average (76%), and its four-year rate (60%) also exceeds the AAU public university average (53%).

In her presentation, Provost Dorr also emphasized the role of the UC faculty as researchers, and the excellence that stems from research faculty teaching undergraduates and advising doctoral students. She said UC should be proud of the progress it has made to improve graduation and time-to-degree rates, but she also cautioned that further progress should not come at the cost of reduced quality or the faculty’s ability to fulfill their research and service responsibilities.

“UC has to remain committed to sustaining UC excellence in its teaching, research, and public service missions, in what are likely to be difficult and uncertain circumstances,” she said.

“Six years of budget cuts have forced UC to increase class sizes, cut class sections, and curtail faculty hiring,” said Chair Powell. “The proposed augmentations in the 2013-14 budget, while welcome, do not provide the University with enough revenue to meet even mandatory costs, and a tuition freeze will place additional pressure on campuses to reduce quality and, paradoxically, will impair their ability to achieve the Governor’s goals. The state should not consider UC’s current budget a ‘new normal’ if it wants to retain its historical quality and its commitment to access for low income and first generation students.”

Chair Powell agrees that one of UC’s biggest challenges is to inform the general public about the total scope of the faculty’s job, particularly their role as researchers. “UC must protect the research environment for faculty and make the case for the importance of UC research to the economy and a highly educated and skilled workforce,” he said.

UC has proposed its own outcome measures, which include increasing undergraduate degree completion, decreasing time to degree, and increasing the proportion of graduate students at UC campuses. UC is also proposing a roadmap for improving outcomes such as timely degree completion, through strategies such as increased counseling interventions for struggling students and additional online courses. Other ideas include increasing the proportion of faculty with titles that do not include research as part of their responsibilities and adjusting personnel policies that would allow UC to increase ladder rank faculty teaching responsibilities in some cases. UCOP is also modeling the projected effect of increased graduation and reduced time to degree rates on the admission of different populations of students.

The Senate and the administration will be working on a plan to address the additional teaching workload, improve graduation rates, and maintain the quality and rigor of a UC education,” Powell said.

Chair Powell emphasized the role of advising in student success and strategic use of summer session in time-to-degree, noting that both are areas that have been threatened and/or harmed by budget cuts. He said it is important for performance measures to account for the legitimate reasons that students may take longer than four or six years to graduate, such as exploring different degree paths or enhancing their lives and careers with an internship or study abroad.

As the budget deadline approaches, the Governor and Legislature will continue their deliberations on the higher education budget and the role of performance measures.

“Governor Brown was impressed by the data presented and asked interesting questions about what factors correlate with improved outcomes,” says Powell. “I am encouraged that he understood that there are more appropriate ways to measure improvement.” Additional data will be discussed at a future Regents meeting.

Highlights from the report:

  • The number of bachelor’s degrees per UC ladder faculty member increased from 5.5 in 2005-06 to 5.8 in 2010-11; UC’s current number is higher than AAU publics (4.3) and much higher than AAU privates (2.3).
  • The number of doctoral degrees per UC ladder faculty member increased from 0.4 in 2005-06 to 0.5 in 2010-11; UC’s current number is higher than AAU publics (0.4) and the same as AAU privates (0.5).
  • UC ladder faculty are graduating more undergraduate and doctoral students each year (6.3) than are AAU publics (4.7) and AAU privates (2.8).
  • The number of student credit hours (SCH) per ladder faculty member has increased from 693 in 1990-91 to 782 in 2010-11 (12.8 percent increase), with a 10.5 percent increase in SCH from 2005-06 to 2010-11.
  • From 2006 through 2012, undergraduates reported consistently high levels of satisfaction with their overall academic experience (82%) and the quality of faculty instruction (89%)