UC Santa Cruz’s graduation rates and graduate degree awards rank below the UC mean, according to Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway’s recently finalized version of “Envision UCSC,” a strategic plan outlining goals and action for UCSC’s future. One of the plan’s six goals is to “advance student success,” by improving retention and graduation rates.
The plan outlines a vague pathway toward accomplishing this goal, which includes “enhancing and raising the campus profiles of our student academic success and mentoring programs.” The plan also states a need to improve campus climate for students, and “promote pride in our Banana Slug camaraderie by expanding destinations where students can gather, relate to one another, build community and learn together.”
The plan sounds impressive in theory. The university acknowledges that there are problem areas and has some type of plan to improve students’ experience at UCSC. Unfortunately, the plan lacks tangible details, solutions and opportunities for dialogue. As of now, the plan reads like an overly optimistic and out-of-touch press release — all bark and no bite.
The university says it will take a “holistic approach” to the problems, meaning it will assess the system as a whole, rather than tackling issues individually. The plan also has a special focus on underrepresented groups at the university. According to the 2014 UC Accountability Report, “Graduation rates at the UC tend to be lower for socioeconomically disadvantaged students (especially African American and Chicano/Latino males) and for students from first-generation families.”
“Our campus is a safe, supportive, intellectually stimulating environment that facilitates a holistic educational experience for all students, including underrepresented groups,” reads the statement. However, this is just not true for some students, and a statement like this, as part of a strategic plan mostly focused on improvement, undermines its purpose. According to a 2014 Campus Climate report, 23 percent of respondents, or 1,444 students, “believed that they had personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct.”
The percentage of students from underrepresented populations, however, was not reflected in the survey itself. Only 30 percent of undergraduate students, faculty and staff responded to the survey. Within the survey, the white population was overrepresented.
The plan also raises questions about how well the task force behind the plan grasps the issues students face, including lacking a sense of belonging, experiencing discriminatory incidents, having to work, learning in overcrowded classrooms and supporting a family if coming from a low-income background.
Several campus units work toward improving support for students, and many of these resources are student-run, with support from staff and faculty. The Ethnic Resource Centers, Engaging Education — the student-initiated and student-run outreach and retention center — Cultural Arts and Diversity and tutoring services from Learning Support Services and the Writing Program are all programs that support, retain and outreach to students. Alongside tutoring, the services provided by these programs are indispensable to the university and the success of many students on campus. The majority of these programs are funded partly by student fees — money out of our own pockets.
The plan is the first step in addressing issues many students have regarding the support they deserve — in exchange for ever-increasing tuition. But these steps alone are not enough. A powerful plan begins with addressing the demographic inequity on our campus. The undergraduate population as of fall 2014 did not reflect California’s population. Latinos, African Americans/blacks, American Indians and Pacific Islanders are underrepresented. While this problem doesn’t necessarily begin and end with the UC, feelings of belonging — which the plan identifies as a key area — will not improve until the education system more accurately reflects the population, which also entails graduating the students who are here.
When the four-year graduation rate is sitting at 51.5 percent, one of the lowest among the UC system, UCSC must prioritize how to support students and remedy the factors affecting retention. It is going to take more than a “vision” plan to accomplish these difficult goals, but the improvements must happen. Administrators on campus are paid well above six-figures and their actions should be accountable to those they are supposed to serve — the students. Even if that means thinking creatively and streamlining administrative costs. We hope the plan, which is said to be implemented in the spring, can make tangible change.