The University of California seeks to give its students a distinctive learning experience — one characterized by a learning environment created by faculty who are actively engaged in academic research. UC strives to ensure that all students have an opportunity to take small classes, seminars, and lab sections, and have access to faculty and others active in research. The ultimate goal is to ensure that students develop critical thinking, writing and other academic skills along with an in-depth understanding of their specific fields of study.
This chapter includes indicators that illuminate aspects of the undergraduate teaching and learning experience: who teaches, and student access to ladder faculty, small classes and research. Using survey data, it reports students' reflections on their undergraduate education — the extent to which they have developed mastery in their field or improved their critical thinking and other skills. The chapter concludes with a review of the educational opportunities that UC provides through its extension programs to hundreds of thousands of Californians, most of them in adult professional and continuing education.
While these indicators begin to get at the nature of the educational enterprise, they can only provide a very imperfect assessment of educational effectiveness and instructional quality. Therefore, at UC, individual academic departments and degree programs are responsible for defining learning objectives and for assessing students' progress in meeting them. These objectives and assessments are subject to scrutiny by faculty from external institutions as part of routine program reviews conducted by the campuses. In recent years, academic objectives and assessments have become a major focus of reviews conducted by the regional accreditation agency (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) as well as reviews by many professional accrediting and related bodies. Information about program learning objectives is available on departmental websites, and each campus posts materials related to accreditation.
As evident elsewhere in this report, the University of California has undergone considerable and rapid changes in the last decade in its size and shape and in the level and source of funds that are available in support of instruction. These have led to increases in tuition, growth in average class sizes, reductions in course availability, and curtailment in faculty hiring. Some campuses are also rethinking curricular requirements and exploring new modes of instructional delivery, including online instruction and better use of summer sessions. How these changes affect students' educational experience is not yet clear, but it may begin to emerge from the data reported in this section in the years to come.