UC Berkeley is increasingly a pipe dream for California residents. (Photo credit: John Morgan)
For California’s high school seniors and their families, new statistics coming from the University of California system are troubling. Suddenly, being an actual California resident makes one less likely to attend some of the most hallowed halls of education in the state. Famously wracked by budget cuts, the UC system has reached a new low in the number of actual Californians it’s admitting. At the same time, out-of-state applicants have had their acceptance levels swell by 21 percent over last year for the coming fall semester.
With Californians gaining admission to the UC system at the lowest in decades, the question of whether the University of California is a university for the taxpaying Californians who fund it is impossible to ignore. The natural follow-up: does it have to be?
“I’m not surprised [by the numbers], but then again I kind of am because there’s more funding going to the UC system this year,” Executive Director for the Campaign for College Opportunity Michele Siqueiros said. “The state, even with additional Prop 30 money, is clearly not making up the total budget cuts.”
Recently, it’s out-of-state applicants that help make up the difference. “They’re paying I think $36,000 in tuition, more than twice as much as a California student,” Hans Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California said. “That tuition more than pays for the cost of paying undergraduate instruction.”
Essentially, the size and scope of recent cuts have just been too much to avoid the shift toward out-of-state applicants. “The big picture is higher education has had hundreds of millions of cuts over the last five years,” Johnson said. “There’s been some restoration, but it doesn’t make up the size of all the cuts. You can’t expect to have all those cuts without some sort of repercussions.”
Further complicating matters are the standards California students are held to in the UC admission process. “We supposedly have guaranteed admissions, where if you meet certain requirements, you’re guaranteed a spot,” Siqueiros said. “They actually do admit eligible students, but they admit them into UC Merced.”
Johnson knows about this stat-juking first hand. “What UC does, and UC told me this – they’re not necessarily trying to make this a secret, they’ve been public about it – they’ve set enrollment targets for campuses in light of the cuts. The popular campuses have referred a lot of students who technically are UC eligible, but because the pool is so competitive, just being UC eligible doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed admission.”
These students, who meet all of the UC qualifications, are then pushed into a referral pool – a situation where it’s UC Merced or bust. And for many applicants, they choose bust. “The only campus right now accepting kids from that pool is UC Merced,” Johnson said. “It used to be that UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced all accepted students from the referral pool. Of course, the University knows that students who applied to Berkeley or UCLA and are put into that pool are extremely unlikely to enroll.”
Alex Deravanessian, an 18-year-old high school senior at Glendale’s Clark Magnet High School, fits this description to a tee. “I applied to Riverside, SD, SB, Irvine, LA, and Berkeley,” Deravenessian said. “I got into the first four. ”
After not getting into Berkeley or UCLA, Deravenessian threw out the UC system altogether and will enroll as an engineering major at Cal Poly Pomona in the fall. When informed of the declining rate of accepted Californians versus the increasing rate of out-of-state acceptances, Deravenessian was quick with judgment.
“I definitely feel cheated,” he said. “I had the grades and the qualifications for entrance. But I’m sure I was denied because they want to meet an out-of-state quota or something. I think California schools should give majority priority to Californians instead of others.”
But this isn’t the case of some big bad educational bureaucracy out to shortchange taxpayers; it’s actually much worse. The UC doesn’t have a choice. Out-of-state students are the ones funding the aid going to lower income students, a case where you can’t have one without the other.
“The big picture is California has gone from a low tuition state to being, in the case of the UC, a relatively high tuition, but also high aid state,” Johnson said. “That high tuition/high aid approach isn’t necessarily a bad one, but you’re requiring people who can or supposedly can pay to pay, and those that can’t in California are receiving pretty generous – by state standards – grants from the institutions themselves or through the state in the Cal Grant program.”
Once one of the most revered public higher education systems in the country, the UC is a shadow of its former self in the wake of the crippling yet mandatory cuts of the past half decade. As the state slowly crawls out of the financial hole it has dug itself, it seems to be a while yet before the UC is able to offer actual Californians the wide-ranging opportunities it became known for.
Californians expect their government to deliver on the creation of more middle class jobs by providing cost effective public services. We are covering this issue because we believe that education is critical for the future of the state, and California must make good on its promise to adequately prepare our students for the future.