University of California Regents Lift Ban on Fully Online Degree Programs

The UC Board of Regents voted to repeal a year-old policy requiring students to take a minimum amount of in-person instruction, effectively banning online degrees.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on February 29, 2024
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  • The University of California Board of Regents voted against a recommendation from the Academic Senate that would essentially ban fully online degree programs.
  • Last year, the Academic Senate approved a "campus experience requirement," which would mandate that students take a minimum amount of in-person instruction.
  • The regulation closes a loophole that would allow for the potential creation of a fully online degree program through individually approved online courses.
  • Later, it was found that the regulation would need board approval for it to be effective.

The University of California (UC) has reversed course, ending its one-year restriction on the ability to earn a bachelor's degree strictly through online courses.

UC doesn't offer any fully online degree programs, but students could utilize a loophole, creating a degree pathway through individually approved online courses. The UC Board of Regents voted 10-1 against approving a regulation made by the university's Academic Senate that closed that loophole.

The Academic Senate is one of three branches in the University of California system, along with the Board of Regents, which sets broad policy, and the administration, which directs the organization of the university and its finances, according to UC.

The Academic Senate directs the educational function and provides faculty advice to both the regents and the administration, including setting admissions and graduation requirements and approving courses and curricula.

The "campus experience requirement" was passed by the Academic Senate in February 2023, after a unanimous endorsement from the Academic Council.

It required first-year and transfer undergraduates to complete a minimum of six units of in-person courses, or courses that have at least half of instruction occurring face-to-face, per quarter (or semester) for three quarters (or two semesters), according to the meeting minutes.

Disagreement on the Benefits of Virtual Learning

In a February 2023 letter to colleagues, Susan Cochran, chair of the Academic Council, said that the regulation "defines UC's commitment to an in-person educational experience" and "opens the door for campuses to experiment with online majors and minors."

Months later, UC President Michael Drake told the Academic Council that the Board of Regents disapproved of the policy and considered it a "significant change in the conditions of an undergraduate degree that should have warranted their consultation."

James Steintrager, chair of the Academic Senate, spoke at the meeting in favor of the recommendation, saying that the possibility of unplanned online undergraduate degree programs seems like a "recipe for disaster."

"The proposed campus experience requirement mandates a certain amount of in-person instruction which is expected to invite students to campus and encourage them to interact with faculty in face-to-face settings and with their peers," he said.

The regents voted 10-1 to decline approval of the regulation and to affirm "campus autonomy to decide undergraduate degree program requirements."

What Comes Next

Despite the recent vote, this is not the end of the conversation concerning online degree programs at UC.

In December 2023, Drake approved the creation of a presidential task force focused on "instructional modalities and UC-quality undergraduate degree programs." The group will focus on criteria for remote-based UC-quality bachelor's programs.

The task force is expected to share its preliminary findings and recommendations in May.