UC San Diego’s Alumni Board of Directors joined the campus strategic planning process in a Feb. 22 forum that generated an array of ideas for enhancing the student experience, strengthening the university’s brand, and fortifying the global network of 150,000 campus alumni.
Board members called for more dynamic alumni-student exchanges, particularly those centered on academic majors and career development. They expressed a keen interest in promoting UC San Diego as a “public Ivy” renowned for both high academic quality and broad educational access. They suggested that more enterprising admissions procedures would boost diversity and inclusion, and they volunteered to serve as admissions readers.
Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, who has identified alumni engagement as an institutional priority, praised the board for its dedication to supporting and mentoring students. “At one time, you were one of those kids,” he said, “and as alumni, you should never forget that. Investing in these students is of paramount importance.”
The alumni leaders offered insights and recommendations for charting the university’s future in four primary strategic planning areas:
Enhancing the Student Experience
- Alumni and students should connect more regularly through internships, mentoring programs, academic major and career counseling, and informal dinners. The bonds that result would give both groups a greater sense of loyalty and institutional value.
- First-year students should be inculcated with Triton spirit by means of special programs and T-shirts. Such early imprinting could give UC San Diego a stronger identity and make the campus a more welcoming environment.
- A growing percentage of undergraduates come from low-income households; fully half pay no tuition. Because they are forced to juggle studies and jobs, they cannot participate in the extracurricular activities that could enrich their campus experience and build their allegiance to UC San Diego.
- Instead of “thriving” as members of the university community, too many students are merely “surviving” under heavy and fragmented course loads.
Enhancing Academic and Educational Quality
- The pre-eminence of UC San Diego faculty in their fields has become a “well-kept secret,” particularly among national university leaders who determine institutional rankings and within the surrounding San Diego community.
- Efforts to bridge academic divisions and majors should focus on “real-life” opportunities for interdisciplinary achievement, e.g., applying Computer Science skills to Oceanography research. Special attention should be given to such career counseling in the Social Sciences, a division that includes a large percentage of undergraduate majors.
- Deferred maintenance of aging academic buildings has become a critical problem that threatens UC San Diego’s ability to sustain its exceptional scholarly impact.
Building Diversity, Access, and Inclusion
- Proposition 209’s constraints on demographic admissions practices should be re-analyzed with an eye toward creating a more holistic admissions process. Alumni who have legal and other related expertise could serve as advisers in this endeavor.
- To help admissions officers with ever-enlarging applicant pools, alumni volunteers could be trained to evaluate applications.
- UC San Diego should study the “best practices” of institutions that have successfully recruited and retained underrepresented students.
- Overemphasis on the quantitative criteria of GPAs and SAT scores creates an uneven playing field that penalizes talented applicants from schools with skewered requirements.
Strengthening the UC San Diego Brand
- UC San Diego should showcase its distinctions as an intellectual powerhouse – it should “Embrace the Geek” in the manner of MIT – and it should highlight its track record as an engine of innovation and international collaboration.
- The university’s pivotal role in transforming San Diego from a Navy town to a global hub of innovation has not received its due recognition.
- The branding of UC San Diego’s three “spheres” – General Campus, Health Sciences, and Marine Sciences –should be brought into closer alignment.
- Expanding programs in corporate talent development would broaden UC San Diego’s external impact and increase its alliances to stakeholder groups.
Chancellor Khosla told the alumni leaders that “by the end of this year, we will have a 50,000-foot-high strategic plan” that will chart how “this institution will be one UC San Diego with multiple pillars of excellence – one university with one aspiration and one big vision.”