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Can Online Courses Save the University of California? Mark Yudof Looks Into the Future

| February 6, 2013
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Mark Yudof (University of California)

Mark Yudof (University of California)

The future of the University of California may look a lot like what’s in front of your eyes right now.

Speaking to Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson, the school’s departing president, Mark Yudof, said public universities may depend on online courses for their survival.

“I think in the case of the University of California, in a few years, probably four, five, or six courses will be taken online on your way to an undergraduate degree,” said Yudof. “We’ll make more use of e-learning.”

In January, Yudof announced his departure at the end of this academic year and he has been giving interviews about his experiences there.

The university already offers some courses online. But Yudof said that the university is just beginning to figure out the right way of teaching over the internet.

You don’t want a camera in the back of the classroom with a professor droning on in his traditional lecture. You know, you want Pixar or someone like that to really fix it up. As for the MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Learning), I think we’re at the ground level on this. I mean, if you give me $20 million and I can offer a course for free and I have no degrees, no certificates, no assessments, and most of the students drop out before we complete it, I don’t consider that a triumph for higher education. It’s good that it’s available and it’s open, but we have to have a business model that works for real people and is self-sustaining.”

More and more people want to attend the university. The number of California students who applied for admission as freshmen grew by 6.2 percent over last year for a total of 99,129, a new record, the school reported in January.

But Yudof doesn’t envision new classrooms for all these students, he told the Los Angeles Times:

The days of building new brick-and-mortar campuses may well be over. The new avenues to the University of California may be more online, more from community colleges. Actually investing a billion dollars and erecting a campus — I don’t know where the money would come from even if you could justify it.

And he thinks some other kinds of consolidation may be necessary, he told the Times.

It’s a very tough issue and we haven’t done nearly enough. I’ve even suggested joint departments where one department can cover two campuses. But it has to be done very carefully. We do need to have a physics department and an English department virtually everywhere and we probably need multiple nursing schools…. Part of the problem is the local effect of people saying we want to be Berkeley or UCLA. We want a big engineering college, we want a law school or we want a medical school. You have to be very circumspect since those are very expensive things.

Tuition went up sharply during Yudof’s tenure, which began in 2008. But it stayed steady for the 2012-2013 academic year, and he’s confident it won’t increase next year either.

Asked what is the greatest legacy of his term as president, Yudof said he was happy just to hold the system together at a time when the state significantly cut its support.

I think there was a danger given the furloughs and the pension crisis and other things that we could have had a mass exodus of faculty and lost a lot of ground. That didn’t happen. That, I hope is my contribution.

Here is the audio version of the Marketplace interview:

For more about Yudof’s work, visit Remaking the University.

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