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‘Predatory’: Student Borrower Protection Center calls on UC to end online non-degree programs

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MAY 11, 2023

The Student Borrower Protection Center and several UC professors delivered a letter to the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, on Thursday, demanding that the university end online non-degree programs run by third-party companies that are affiliated with the UC system.

The letter follows the university’s new requirement that students complete at least 18 of the 180 mandated units of their bachelor’s degree in person, eliminating a previous loophole that allowed UC students to obtain online degrees.

Ben Kaufman, director of Research & Investigations at the Student Borrower Protection Center, said because students can no longer pursue degrees online, the university should end online programs that allegedly mislead students into paying for a non-degree certificate.

“Our letter outlines that a huge body of research, and evidence shows that these non-degree programs are generally quite predatory and fail to deliver meaningful career outcomes, all while trapping people in tons of unaffordable private student loans,” Kaufman said in an email.

These non-degree programs are run by companies which use the university’s logo, but do not use university staff or curriculum, according to Ella Azoulay, a research and policy analyst for the Student Borrower Protection Center.

Azoulay said the branding of 2U, the “online program manager,” or OPM, affiliated with the UC system, calls its data science program a “digital degree program” that partners with UC Berkeley. According to the 2U website, the company offers “non-degree online certificate programs.”

Students of color are “disproportionately” affected by these programs, according to Berkeley Law professor Jonathan Glater, who worked with the Center researching the consequences of student debt and signed the Center’s letter to UC President Michael Drake. In many cases, students may be “confused” about who is providing the education — the university or the OPM, he said.

He added that his prior research was initially more concerned with the for-profit education sector, which has engaged in similar “tactics” as these OPMs.

“The tactics sound the same as those that have been charged against for- profit higher ed providers of trying to recruit students who are more likely to say yes, who might be less-informed consumers of higher education or who might not recognize the consequences of borrowing for programs of the quality they’re signing up to take,” Glater said.

The letter expresses these same concerns, calling these programs “predatory.” It alleged that many of these students take out private loans for non-degree programs for thousands of dollars and often leave them “buried” in debt, claiming that these programs do not impact job prospects for students who’ve completed them.

UCOP spokesperson Ryan King said in an email that the letter was received by the Academic Affairs team at the UCOP and is subject to review. Glater expressed his optimism that the university will consider the change.

“I have every expectation that UC will do the right thing and ensure that students are not enrolling in programs that do not serve them well,” Glater said.

Contact Ella Carter-Klauschie at 


MAY 11, 2023