UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

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UC Santa Barbara | Credit: Courtesy
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

Already facing a massive housing shortage that is forcing hundreds of incoming students to live out of cars and motels, UC Santa Barbara is now grappling with a crisis-level shortfall in available class space for the fall quarter. Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Stopple sounded the alarm in an email sent Friday afternoon to Chancellor Henry Yang and other top university officials. The message was then shared with the Independent by one of the recipients, who wished to remain anonymous. 

In it, Stopple said academic advisors are “desperately” trying to secure for first-year and transfer students the 12 units they need to achieve full-time status, but are finding there simply aren’t enough courses in the catalog to meet demand. With instruction set to begin September 23, many undergraduates are “entirely out of luck,” he wrote.

“We are again in our annual fall enrollment crisis, as we have been every fall since 2015,” Stopple continued. “The campus is perfectly capable of projecting how many units we can generate in the fall, even as early as the previous winter quarter.” Why it consistently fails to do so is clearly a source of intense confusion and frustration for Stopple. “I am discouraged enough that if I were not already stepping down,” he said in reference to a scheduled departure from his position later this year, “I would now.”

Stopple ― a Fulbright Scholar with a PhD in mathematics who has been at UCSB since 1987, chairing the math department and teaching classes, as well as serving as an administrator ― dissected the dilemma for Yang, which goes beyond a simple unit shortage and could have serious long-term financial impacts on both the campus and its students. “Actual data shows fall units per student steadily dropping over time, despite the fact that students may take as many units as they want for a fixed price,” he said. In contrast, available summer units are increasing, even though students are paying then by the unit.

 “The inescapable logic of this,” Stopple stated, “is that we are enrolling more students than we can educate on a four-year, three-quarter schedule. This is impacting our graduation rates, most notably for students for whom summer is too expensive.” Students who can’t maintain full-time status may also be denied financial aid, he worried. “Regarding the current crisis,” Stopple said, “deans might ask chairs to expand lecture sizes. However, graduate student TAs are in short supply as well.”

Left unaddressed in Stopple’s message was why fall units on offer are declining. He explained in a separate email exchange with the Independent that multiple factors contributed to the predicament. Faculty numbers shrank during the 2008 recession and corresponding budget cuts, he said, “and have only slowly recovered.” Plus, many faculty retired or left the university during the pandemic. “Recruiting faculty can take up to two years and can impact a department’s ability to offer certain courses,” he said. 

UCSB has always had a low proportion of graduate to undergraduate students compared to other major research universities, Stopple went on, and the campus “still has work to do to balance that proportion.” Grad students often work as teaching assistants, or TAs, to professors, augmenting lecture courses with smaller “section” classes.

Raw enrollment figures are also contributing to the crunch, Stopple said. UC campuses are under significant pressure to admit more undergrads. “Sacramento and the UC Office of the President have required all UCs to admit more California residents,” he said. “In addition, the UCs face significant penalties if we do not enroll a community college transfer for every two freshman admits.” UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD are all struggling with similar course shortages, he noted.

“As you can see, enrollment is a complex issue that we are working to address,” Stopple concluded. “As always, we are trying to expand offerings to meet demand.”

Meanwhile, in a reflection of that demand, U.S. News & World Report this week ranked UCSB the fifth best public university in the United States and 28th among all of the country’s colleges. The only public universities ranked higher than UCSB were UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia.

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Bird Sep 17, 2021 09:07 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

UCSB promised the Goleta area that it would limit student enrollment. It has trashed that promise., bringing in many more students than there is housing for them. Mega-rich billionaire and arrogant 90plus-year-older Munger says he will build housing but only if it is to his design and will dominate the campus by height and massiveness …and have no windows. UCSB apparently has agreed.

Why would anyone think that the powers that be that run this university would give a damn about freshmen and other undergraduates not having courses to attend? The real question is why the USNews and Wld. Report rate it so highly?

Ahchooo Sep 17, 2021 09:27 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

As far as that Munger dorm goes, I believe the university is just using it as a stalling tactic. What are the chances the authorities will approve an eleven story building, with no egress from most bedrooms? The U can wring it’s hands and claim “we tried to do the right thing but you wouldn’t let us.”

sbdude Sep 16, 2021 10:45 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

Sacramento wants the UCs and CSUs to enroll more students, so the UCs and CSUs want more money to build classrooms and housing and hire more professors, which of course is not forthcoming.

What they really need to do is build some new campuses. Only 1 new UC and 3 new CSUs in the last 40 years?

a-1631892251 Sep 17, 2021 08:24 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

I believe there’s a law that requires the UC to admit a certain percentage of the state’s high school graduates. As the population grows, the UC must also, and yet they have not done so (not enough, anyway). Either the law needs to change, or more campuses need to be built. Most existing campuses are at capacity and cannot grow without deleterious effects on their communities. Tell your elected officials!

Transparent Sep 16, 2021 09:09 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

With all those PhDs (no hate, I've got one, for better or worse) you'd think the professors and admins would understand the economics and motivations of the bureaucratic eco-system they live within.

There's nothing worse than watching folks 'criticize' a system from well-within the protection of its cozy confines... let me guess, the system needs more money?

NostraChumash Sep 16, 2021 05:15 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

They've never heard of the;
Best online post-doc site one could hope for..
Chock full of retired & active Mensa-profs. and quad-Phd's (drumroll)..

Chip of SB Sep 16, 2021 04:45 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

If UCSB is going to accept freshmen with the understanding that it is possible to earn a degree in four years, then fail to deliver the required units to accomplish that, I believe a fraud has been committed. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine that UCSB will do anything to compensate students who are harmed financially and academically by this failure to offer units. I would caution any young person considering going to college to weigh the costs and benefits carefully. I saw someone mentioned usury in relation to the rent students are being charged. The real usury is the debt so many students are saddled with. How a young person can be allowed to sign up for crippling non-dischargeable debt when they are legally considered too young to drink, smoke, and in many cases even vote is beyond me. Unless seeking a degree that will pay off financially in a major way, I would advise any young person to stay out of debt and stay out of college.

Babycakes Sep 16, 2021 03:34 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

My nearby neighbor has started renting an alcove in his livingroom out to a student. Basically a cot, tiny table/lamp, an old oak swivel rocker chair, and el cheapo plastic drawers for clothing. He is getting $1225/month. I think that is "robbery" but the student feels very lucky to have found "anything."

Babycakes Sep 17, 2021 09:42 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

Pit/BUS: This guy has family "peppered" throughout our city and county government/agencies such as Streets / Planning / DMV / Parks and so on. Most people, including myself, would be unlikely to snitch as he would find out one way or another, and then there would be a price to pay. He had about 10 feet of red curb "removed" in front of his house, and a messy Red Flowering Gum trees replaced with a palm. I also noticed yesterday that he's installing a sewer line to his garage (aka "artist cottage"). Bottom line is that he's a good guy and no one is going to bust his chops over a couple renters.

biguglystick Sep 17, 2021 09:00 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

UGH. I think if he is renting tents for students to live in it IS illegal. I'd report him. How's he going to know who did it? That's robbery, it's wrong and it needs to be reported.

PitMix Sep 17, 2021 08:48 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

You can make anonymous zoning complaints to the City, not the county, about illegal zoning situations. My friend was reported for storing an RV in her driveway by an ex-boyfriend and it was a huge hassle to address.

Babycakes Sep 17, 2021 08:18 AM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

GeneralTree: I don't think what he is doing is illegal as far as I know, but certainly no one is going to snitch on this guy. He is basically The King of the hood and NOT to be crossed. Plus, at Christmas he gives us all a Costco-size bottle of Patron or Maker's Mark.

Babycakes Sep 16, 2021 03:52 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

....plus my neighbor is charging a young student couple $850 to set up backpacking tents in his back yard!!! They are allowed to use a bathroom, but have to cook/BBQ outside.

a-1631832071 Sep 16, 2021 03:41 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

One suspects that the student is not paying the freight on this one. Anyone who rents such a space for such a price is guilty of usurious practices. In the Bible such behavior would bring public ridicule. If this neighbor wanted to help s/he could rent the space to a needy person at half the price reported here.

mm1970 Sep 16, 2021 03:05 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

It seems like it's just math. Admittedly, complicated math. But if you've been sounding the alarm since 2015, someone is not listing.

If you are short units, figure out what units. Instruct each department that they must add classes. Make that happen.

a-1631825358 Sep 16, 2021 01:49 PM
UCSB Course Shortage at ‘Crisis’ Level, Dean Says

A contributing factor is that, over time, faculty have voted themselves lower course loads. Professors used to each teach two courses per quarter (6 courses per year, spread over three quarters). In many departments the faculty voted to reduce the requirement to five courses, and possibly even four. When professors go on research sabbaticals, they teach nothing. Plus, if a prof takes a position as dean or department chair, he/she gets course relief, and doesn’t teach a full load. Note that some courses are small, graduate-level seminars, which don’t serve the undergraduate masses. Teaching is not a priority for many faculty; some are mainly committed to research. Research is essential to the university’s mission, but perhaps a different balance need to be struck. (Note also that non-tenured instructors teach many classes. These can be hard to hire, as they have to move to SB, but don’t have long term contracts.)

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