Feature Interview with ACP Jody Greene: the UC Compact and Academic Success

Jody Greene is the Associate Campus Provost for Academic Success and was the inaugural director of the Teaching and Learning Center. They are a professor of Literature, Feminist Studies, and the History of Consciousness, and their research interests include legal and literary studies, Western philosophy, human rights and international law, queer studies, and the history of literary discourse and literary institutions. In Jody’s new role as Associate Campus Provost for Academic Success, among their many responsibilities, they are the central leader for engaging with the campus on the topic of the UC compact, a multi-year agreement between the Newsom administration and the University of California. Jody was interviewed by Michael Tassio on November 21, 2023, about the UC compact and its relationship to teaching, learning, and more generally, to academic success. 

What is the multi-year compact between the Newsom administration and the University of California, and why is it relevant to UC Santa Cruz? 

In May of 2022, UC President Drake and CA Governor Newsom issued an eight-page document that we can think of as a political document outlining a set of goals for the University of California between now and 2026–27, though with some longer-term goals extending to 2030. The goals include enrollment (particularly for in-state students), transfer student pathways, overall student success, workforce readiness, increases in online education, improved conditions for students with disabilities, and perhaps above all, closing equity gaps for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented-group students.

Prior to the compact, the University of California had a goal of eliminating equity gaps between now and 2030. Although the compact itself is only a five-year document, all of the goals within it are queued to reach certain measures by 2030. Most importantly for this campus, the measures are reaching a target of 70% for both four-year frosh graduation and two-year transfer graduation rates, as well as to eliminate equity gaps. 

What impact will the compact have on teaching and learning on campus? 

Our campus has already transformed in fundamental ways in its approach to teaching and learning. The campus’ status as both Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving (AANAPISI), the student success movement and particularly the Chancellor’s student success goals, as well as an overall transformation in public higher education towards equity-minded and evidence-based teaching practices, have laid the groundwork for the campus to transform many of our approaches to teaching and learning, including the design of courses and curricula.

With regard to what’s new about the compact — and I mean new with relation to these recent changes, but also new in the entire history of the University of California — is that the compact sets performance metrics that we are expected to meet. These metrics will be checked by the campus, the UC Office of the President, the UC regents, and by the legislature and governor. 

It’s hard to overestimate what a transformation it is for our campus to have these kinds of performance-based metrics, at least in part because once these metrics exist, they don’t tend to go away. So from the perspective of faculty members and other instructors on our campus, we want to think about what is immediately within our sphere of influence. For teaching and learning, as educators, that means the design of our courses, the use of evidence-based teaching practices, and the design of our departmental or program curricula and major pathways. Many of these areas of influence have received attention in recent years. However, with the energy provided by the compact, and the ease of access to equity data dashboards, we are able to bring together a plan for each department and academic program to improve its student success outcomes. It’s important to say that there is a much broader definition of student success that goes beyond the baselines of retention, graduation rates, and equity gaps. But you have to start with these kinds of foundational goals if you want to make things better.

How do the goals of the compact interact with the chancellor’s established goals for advancing student success by improving retention and graduation rates? In what areas might the campus have to shift its efforts to work on the goals of the compact? 

In many ways the compact is aligned with the Chancellor’s goals, but the compact puts some broader targets in front of us. The Chancellor had already set goals for student success, including 90% retention in the first year and improved graduation rates, but the compact is even more focused and it puts us on a very tight timeline that the campus is supposed to meet by 2026–27. This timeline means that we have to accelerate our efforts. It means that every instructor and employee on our campus needs to understand what an equity gap is and what their particular discipline’s or division’s challenges are around retention and graduation rates for students from underrepresented groups and/or who are low-income or First Generation to College.

So I really see the present time as the critical phase of the compact. For instructors working at the departmental level examining the student outcome data for their department, we need to discover the courses that have high failure rates, that may be in need of some redesign, and to explore whether the curriculum is coherent — meaning whether students can move through it effectively in 2 years for transfers or 4 years for frosh. While not all students will and should move through on that timeline, it should theoretically be possible for every student who enters — absent other barriers — to move through in a timely way without meeting unnecessary barriers we as faculty uniquely have the capacity to remove. 

What type of resources is the campus providing to help faculty and staff meet the goals of the compact?

The compact comes with a five-year guaranteed budget increase for the UC system during the life of the compact. So while we have seen other state agencies have their budgets decreased in the post-COVID era, we have seen a consistent increase for the UC as a result of the compact, which is very refreshing for our campus. But I would also go back in time and say that our campus has made significant investments in the area of teaching and learning, including growing this now thriving teaching and learning center, and we shouldn’t forget about these recent investments when we consider the question of the resources available to help us meet compact goals.

The campus has also appointed assistant and associate deans tasked with student success or related areas, and has significantly expanded the number of teaching professors to help with and lead the curriculum and course redesign efforts in critical major pathways. Teaching professors are also bringing their pedagogical expertise to aid their colleagues in improving outcomes for students, and particularly for students from underrepresented groups.

Other investments on the student-facing side include a new division of student affairs and success with significantly enhanced resources for such things as student academic support, basic needs, housing, and so on. 

In sum, then, the campus has been making significant financial investments as well as investments in expertise, so that any department that wishes to have a consultation can find out what its equity gaps are and get advice from the teaching center or my office about how to work on those gaps.

What are the stakes for UC Santa Cruz if the goals of the compact are not met? 

This is a great question and we don’t yet know the answer to it. Unlike some states that have taken up performance-based funding in higher education, the government of the state of California, and certainly the UC regents, are very invested in making sure that the University of California is representative of the population of our state, and in particular that we enroll high numbers of first-generation and underrepresented group students as well as students from low-income backgrounds. It’s important to remember that eligibility to the University of California is available to the top 12.5 percent of high school seniors in California, so we are already bringing the most academically qualified students into the system. Part of the effort set out in the compact is to ensure that those students have everything that they need to succeed at UCSC.

In other states, campuses that have not met their performance-based funding metrics have sometimes lost resources. We don’t know yet how that’s going to work in California because it doesn’t necessarily make sense to take a campus that’s succeeding in enrolling high numbers of first-generation, low-income, or underrepresented-group students, and to then cut funding and starve those student groups of the resources needed by the campus to change its approaches to instruction and student supports. So this is a place where we’re going to have to wait and see.

How is work to support the goals of the compact being organized on this campus? 

Through the University of California Office of the President, there are representatives on each campus who have been charged with making sure that we make progress on each of the compact goals. It seemed really important to me that we had a concerted effort, and so we quickly pulled together those representatives from across the campus who are doing key work in relation to the compact into a working group. 

In the areas covered by the compact, there can sometimes be an impression that the student-facing side and the faculty-facing side are not working in alignment. One of the things that the compact work group seeks to do is to let everybody work within their sphere of influence, but also to make sure that we understand what kinds of endeavors each of the sub groups is working on. Sometimes this allows us not to duplicate, and — even more importantly — it often allows us to collaborate. Most critically, it allows us to coordinate our efforts and track them.

There is an annual reporting system associated with the compact. So every year the representatives from the campus meet with the Office of the President and explain what kind of activities we’ve been engaged in, what kind of initiatives, where our resources are going, and how much progress we’re making.

A criticism of the compact is its narrow focus on workforce development and the STEM fields more generally. How does the compact affect non-STEM fields? 

One of the most interesting things about doing this work is that we have different challenges for academic success in different parts of the university. Some parts may have a long time to degree, but very high retention; other parts may have some challenges around retaining students but have a relatively rapid time to degree for those students who persist. So our goal is to make sure that we are engaging colleagues in each area of the university, and then allowing them to work on the problems that are specific to them and that are within their sole purview. 

Another thing that I would say is that one of the key compact goals is to improve 2-year transfer graduation pathways in critical fields that the compact identifies as education, technology, medicine, and climate. Part of what’s great about the identification of these areas is that they don’t necessarily have to align with a single academic division. One could imagine major pathways focused on climate change in any and all of our five academic disciplinary divisions. One could also imagine a major pathway in technology in any of those divisions. So part of what the compact is offering us is the opportunity to imagine new areas where we could have educational pathways. An example of this is the recently approved creative technologies major in the Arts division, where the campus will help with the compact’s so-called workforce development goals, but where we don’t constantly drive enrollments exclusively towards the STEM fields.

Where has the campus already seen measurable improvement? 

It’s too early for us to see improvements in our graduation rates, but we did get some really encouraging news this year about retention, particularly in the arts and humanities. Our retention in those areas increased significantly, particularly for transfer students. These successes suggest that some of the activities that we’ve been engaged in are working. We also have a long-standing effort to redesign gateway courses in the sciences, and those redesigns are yielding improved outcomes for students and in some cases they are closing equity gaps. 

What else would you like educators at UC Santa Cruz to know about the compact? 

In some ways, I think the compact is really helpful because it’s a directive that comes from outside. It’s not just a homegrown initiative: rather, it’s an initiative that is applied across the UC system so we can collaborate with other campuses to try to solve these problems. This potential for collaboration is a benefit, but I would also say that we should be improving our outcomes for students and closing equity gaps because those goals are in alignment with our values and not just because there’s a statewide compact that tells us to do this work.

In other words, the compact is a kind of gift to us in terms of focusing our attention on the efforts we should be (and are) undertaking anyway, especially as a campus that prides itself on social justice and the kind of history of transformative, liberatory education that has built our reputation.