Recommitting to strengthening student success was the prevailing theme of campus leadership gathering

UC Santa Cruz is striving to increase retention and graduation rates while eliminating achievement gaps

UC Santa Cruz is developing a multidimensional strategy to support students, focusing on holistic student support centered on equity and well-being. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

UC Santa Cruz leaders discussed multi-dimensional, campuswide strategies to strengthen the undergraduate and graduate experience to support the success of students and help prepare them for successful careers and meaningful lives after graduation. 

At the first in-person leadership team gathering since the COVID-pandemic began, deans, vice provosts, vice chancellors, department chairs and managers, Academic Senate leaders and administrators from across campus today gathered to discuss opportunities for the year ahead as the campus prepares for the new academic year. 

“UC Santa Cruz is the future of higher education,” Chancellor Cynthia Larive said. “This university is leading at the intersection of creativity, innovation, and justice.” 

Larive reaffirmed the campus goals to advance student success by improving retention and graduation rates and closing equity gaps; increase its research profile and impact; foster an inclusive campus climate that embraces and values diversity and equity; and improve efficiency, effectiveness, and resilience. 

Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer, along with Associate Vice Chancellor for Budget Analysis and Planning provided a budget overview that included significant good news about the fiscal year 2022 campus budget outlook. The $20 million permanent fiscal year 2021 budget cut has been restored for fiscal year 2022 and the campus will receive a $9.1 million (4.5 percent) permanent increase for mandatory costs; $318,000 based on enrollment growth and $1.2 million to support student mental health. 

The fiscal year 2022 budget also provides an additional $4.8 million for our campus as part of a multi-year plan that aims to bring the unweighted per-student funding level for UCR, UCSB and UCSC to 95 percent of the average systemwide allocation. This budget adjustment honors a pre-COVID agreement by the Council of Chancellors to help counter the heavier weighting of Health Sciences graduate students and residents in the system’s funding allocation formula.

In addition to these permanent funding increases, the budget includes important one-time allocations. The $6.6 million in deferred maintenance funding that was cut in spring 2020 has been restored and is being augmented with an additional $22.7 million, of which 60 percent must target energy efficiency projects. The budget presentation also touched on the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial relief provided by the federal government through Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, which provided many students with additional financial aid and helped fund instructional support for our campus. 

“After the challenges of the past year, this positive budget news is so welcome,” Larive said. “The increases to our permanent budget, especially the additional $4.8 million to better align the state funding our campus receives with the systemwide per-student average will go a long way in helping us achieve our student success goals. A UC Santa Cruz education can change the trajectory of a student’s life—but they need to earn a diploma for it to have the strongest impact. I’m proud to see the whole campus refocusing on supporting our students, from the moment they enroll to well after they graduate.”

Advancing student success

Kletzer discussed the campus’s need to boost retention and graduation rates, while also eliminating equity gaps that exist among students. The need to strengthen graduation rates is affirmed by the latest rankings by US News and World Report (USNWR). While UC Santa Cruz continues to be among the top 15 universities for social mobility and top 50 public universities, the rankings also show that graduation rates are behind peer institutions. The six-year graduation rate at UC Santa Cruz in the most recent USNWR rankings is 76 percent.

Interim Vice Chancellor Jennifer Baszile shared an overview of a multidimensional strategy to support students, focusing on holistic student support centered on equity and well-being. This strategy will be developed over the course of this year through a strategic plan, with implementation, by the Division of Student Affairs and Success.  

The Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning is helping to share and support inclusive teaching practices and leading the redesign of key courses. 

“By creating a culture of continuous evaluation and assessment we will be able to sustain a holistic approach to student engagement and belonging, two pillars of our approach to institutional transformation,” Baszile said. “We are laying a strong foundation to make a national impact as one of the few R1, Minority Serving Institutions that is also a member of the AAU.

To better serve graduate students, the campus announced a number of new programs focused on housing, cost reduction, student success, and family support. 

Increasing the research profile and impact

Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Santa Cruz increased research grants and contracts by 7 percent during fiscal year 2021 to more than $159 million. The campus will continue to support single investigator grants while also offering enhanced support for faculty efforts to submit larger high impact interdisciplinary proposals including those that target funding for centers and institutes. To spur these efforts, a seed fund competition will be launched this fall.

“UC Santa Cruz is well positioned to capitalize on increases in federal funding in areas of strength, such as climate change, energy, human health and behavioral science,” said interim Vice Chancellor for Research John MacMillan. “We look to bring together interdisciplinary teams to tackle the biggest problems facing society.”

MacMillan said the campus is also developing a unified business engagement strategy centered on the Innovation and Business Engagement Hub to advance our research impact by supporting entrepreneurship, commercialization of UCSC discoveries and increased funding from corporate partners. 

Fostering inclusivity

Maintaining a campus community in which everyone feels welcome and included is critical, Larive said. Over the past year, the campus has made several structural changes to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The new Office of Equity and Equal Protection, headed by AVC Isabel Dees, manages all complaints of discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, which will enable the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to prioritize its work to proactively serve and support the campus community. Additionally, the transition to Division of Student Affairs and Success structure has elevated student affairs expertise and transformed the way the campus supports students. 

Larive also shared that the campus is exploring the establishment of an ombuds office that could incorporate and augment UCSC’s conflict resolution model. 

As announced earlier in September, UC Santa Cruz has already begun reimagining campus safety by establishing a tiered safety model and shifting resources to other campus units and developing alternative safety support mechanisms, including a critical response team for mental health calls and a sobering station. 

Efficient, effective, and resilient 

UC Santa Cruz has made strides toward greater efficiency and effectiveness, with the adoption of a campuswide task management system and better communication, Larive said, while noting that there are more gains to be made. 

The campus is systematically updating legacy programs and tools that are outdated and make data sharing difficult, while also addressing processes that are cumbersome and manual. The campus will be asking units to ensure they have up-to-date business continuity plans so operations can continue even amid disruptions. 

A recent survey of UC employees showed campus improvements in communication, leadership and organizational change and innovation. The areas of concern among staff continue to be salary and retention. 

Staff retention and engagement are critical to creating a more resilient campus, and Larive previewed a new staff compensation equity plan that was announced to non-represented staff today. 

Over the next three years, UC Santa Cruz will be investing $5.5 million to address historic salary issues. The program will target employees who have met expectations, whose salaries are furthest behind market, and will predominantly impact employees in lower salary grades. Larive also said the campus must hire staff at an appropriate level of pay and that any recruitments with salaries below the 25th percentile will require review by the compensation team in Staff Human Resources. 

Larive recognized that more work needs to be done—particularly as it relates to housing. The campus is adding more housing for students through the Kresge College renewal, and once it clears the courts, Student Housing West will significantly increase the number of housing units for undergraduate and graduate students. 

The campus is also making plans to initiate the development of new employee housing. This work has evolved from the efforts of the Employee Housing Workgroup, using data that emerged from the 2020 employee housing survey. The initial focus is on Ranch View Terrace 2, and work has been done over summer to examine various density considerations. The new Long Range Development Plan, set for review by the Board of Regents in September, has also identified additional employee housing locations which are being reviewed for projects. In addition, the campus is exploring potential opportunities to address other barriers of entry into the housing market for employees, such as down payment assistance or other similar programs.

The campus is continuing on its unprecedented trajectory, and the year ahead will be a time to celebrate as the campus resumes in-person activities. 

“UCSC has an extraordinary opportunity to change the world through our students, our research and our public service. To deliver on that promise, we must work together intentionally and in alignment, and we must thoughtfully assess our progress,” Larive said. “Our vision and goals are the foundation for telling the story of our amazing university.”