The Senate Source

April 2014

Professional Degree Fee Policies Undergo Second Round of Review

The Senate has expressed substantial concerns about a pair of proposed policy revisions covering high-fee professional degree programs.

The concerns follow systemwide Senate reviews of the separate but related policies on Self-Supporting Graduate Professional Degree Programs (SSGPDPs) and Professional Degree Supplemental Tuition (PDST) now being developed by the Academic Planning Council, a joint Administrative-Senate body that advises the UC provost.

PDSTs are fees charged on top of regular tuition to students enrolled in state-supported professional degree programs to support the additional cost of those programs. SSGPDPs are graduate professional degree programs that receive no state support, and charge fees that together with non-state sources (philanthropy, for example) fund all the direct and indirect costs associated with the program for the department and campus. Both programs target students seeking professional training rather than academic Ph.D.s. SSGPDPs have traditionally served students who are already working professionals. Some campuses are looking at expanding the self-supporting model as a way to generate additional revenue and serve more students.  

Self-supporting programs and their fee levels are approved by the president, while the authority to levy PDST and specific PDST levels belong to the Regents and are implemented by the president after Regential approval.

Senate reviewers are concerned that the policies lack clear academic criteria and principles to help the University determine when it is appropriate to offer self-supporting programs, and that they do not adequately distinguish self-supporting programs from state-supported programs that charge PDST. Reviewers also note that self-supporting programs that run in addition to a department’s core curriculum have the potential to divert faculty teaching effort and other resources. Some faculty are concerned that the lack of guidance in the policies may encourage existing academic programs to seek conversion to self-supporting status for purely financial reasons, and in doing so promote “privatization” of the University.

Another aspect of the PDST policy generating concern is a new set of lengthy presidential protocols outlining data collection, analysis, and consultation processes campuses must undertake as they develop and justify PDST proposals and fee levels. Many faculty reviewers find the processes to be overly complicated and onerous. The Council’s letter to the provost points out that the approval processes are so burdensome, they might encourage state-supported professional degree programs to convert to self-supporting status simply to avoid them.

Both policies have been revised several times in recent years, and the latest revisions were developed by a task force of the Academic Planning Council. Comments solicited by the Academic Council in a first review ask Provost Dorr to address these concerns and return the policies to the Senate for a second round of review. Council also suggests in its letters that the authors reconsider the policies as a single, comprehensive, integrated Fee-Based Professional Program Policy that can provide long-term principled guidance. Since that letter was sent, Provost Dorr invited past and current members of APC to evaluate the comments and appointed a subgroup to develop a revision that APC expects to review in late April.

“The reviews reflect a tension between sectors of the University that want to open up the academic enterprise to more high-fee professional degree programs and eliminate administrative barriers to them, and sectors that are concerned about the impact of those programs on access and the public mission of the University,” said Senate Chair Bill Jacob in his letter to Provost Dorr. “This division highlights the lack of principles to distinguish PDST-eligible programs from SSGPDPs.”

UCOP estimates that approximately 60 self-supporting programs are currently operating on UC campuses, including UCLA. There, the Anderson School of Management’s proposal to convert its full-time MBA Program to the self-supporting model was approved by President Yudof last year after a lengthy debate at UCLA and in the systemwide Senate about its implications for educational quality, faculty priorities, and privatization.

Part of the policy debate has focused on the extent of Senate authority over decisions that some regard as primarily financial rather than academic. Both state-supported and self-supporting graduate professional degree programs ostensibly fall under the auspices of divisional graduate councils and, at the systemwide level, the Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs. But Senate involvement in reviewing proposals for programs to add PDST or convert to self-supporting status has often been case specific. Administrators have sometimes argued that conversions and requests for increases or decreases in PDST are purely financial issues, which do not alter the academic enterprise and are therefore outside the Senate’s jurisdiction. Some faculty, however, argue that how a program is funded does have academic significance, even if nothing else in the program changes initially, if academic decisions are seen to be driven by revenue potential and if a self-supporting program drains faculty resources from the core academic enterprise.

“We are in a rapidly changing academic landscape,” says Chair Jacob. “The University’s policies should be grounded in clear principles precisely in order to provide guidance. The Senate review suggests that it is may not be practical for UCOP to treat the PDST policy and the SSGPDP separately.”