Berkeley School of Law Dean Christopher Edley discusses the future of online learning at the University of California

By Rachel Gross

At Berkeleyside, we get up at 6 a.m. (okay, more like 7) and cover long meetings concerning the future of higher education so you don’t have to. But we don’t mind! Because they give us free food.

Tuesday through today, the Regents of the University of California met at the UC San Francisco campus in Mission Bay to address the university’s admissions rates, its budget, and other juicy educational stuff. Here are some highlights and trends that emerged:

Online Learning: One of the more controversial items from past meetings has been the university’s planned implementation of a pilot program for fully online learning this fall, which was addressed by the dean of the Berkeley School of Law, Christopher Edley. The program will consist of 25-40 courses and will utilize “the latest social networking software,” he said. Many critics have questioned whether the university will be able to maintain quality and equity of instruction with these courses. In response, Edley pointed out that the UC is already offering online instruction — UC Extension offered 1,250 courses in the most recent school year. He also said he plans to offer financial aid for the program, whether that means providing students with functional computers or purchasing a broadband connection for them.

Admissions: Getting into a UC is more challenging than ever, said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. “I cannot tell you the number of outraged letters I get from parents and grandparents asking why their brilliant grandchild didn’t get into UC Berkeley,” he said during a press conference. In numbers, that translates to a record-breaking 100,000 freshmen applications to the University of California (including more than 50,000 to UC Berkeley), with 68,329 students making the cut.

Low-Income Students: According to Birgeneau, UC Berkeley has increased the number of low-income students it enrolls from 7,400 three years ago to 9,300 students this year. Ironically, he attributed the sizeable increase to the recent fee hikes — as one-third of the revenue from enhanced fees is returned to the campus’s financial aid pool.

International Students: As the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday, UC Berkeley is already seeing a jump in international students this summer. But it will also continue that trend into the fall, with around 150 more students from abroad, according to university admissions data for 2010. Since non-residents are charged an extra $22,717 in tuition and fees as compared to residents, international students can help the university make up for some of its budgetary losses when the state fails to pick up the tab. But some say this trend goes against the university’s mission to serve the students of California first and foremost.

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