Opinion

UC, CSU: Eligible students deserve a chance

Students at a graduation ceremony at Santa Monica City College. (Photo: American Spirit, via Shutterstock)

California’s universities receive more and more applications every year. Last year there were a record 193,873 applicants to the University of California and 290,473 to the California State University system. Each applicant applied, on average, to two or three campuses.

That’s great news for our economy, which needs a well-educated workforce more than ever. And it’s encouraging that so many of our high school students are serious about their education, taking tough college preparatory programs and succeeding. They should be commended and encouraged.

More than 30 per cent of freshman students at UCLA and Berkeley in 2014 were from out-of-state. Ten years ago these higher-tuition paying students that are coveted by the universities made up only five and eight percent, respectively.

But just as this demand is growing, more and more eligible students are being turned away from California’s universities.

Last year, 11,183 eligible students were denied admission to the University of California campuses to which they applied and were placed in a referral pool for UC Merced — where only 240 actually enrolled. The California State University system is turning away tens of thousands of eligible freshmen and transfer students alike. And both the UC and CSU campuses have raised admission standards for students in response – making it harder for high school grads today to earn a spot in college than it was for previous generations.

All the while, more than 30 per cent of freshman students at UCLA and Berkeley in 2014, are from out-of-state. Ten years ago these higher-tuition paying students that are coveted by the universities made up only five and eight percent, respectively.

The escalating war of words and political standoff among the Governor, legislature and education officials over the funding of California’s university systems is coming down to one stark assessment: how many of our children will get to see the inside of a college classroom?

California’s universities should honor their commitment to accept qualified students, and we should expect and demand better outcomes.

The latest policy proposals are not encouraging. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded in a report released this month that it sees no need to fund increased enrollment at UC and CSU campuses. And just last week, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that the system will cap the number of California students admitted because of the lack of additional state funding.

While the state’s leaders continue their public campaigns, California voters themselves have a much clearer and realistic idea to solve the admissions problem: increase funding for the universities and make the systems more accountable. That’s according to the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll. And we agree.

California’s universities should honor their commitment to accept qualified students, and we should expect and demand better outcomes. Funding should be tied to results, and especially for increasing both admissions and graduation rates.

We urge the Governor and Legislature to ensure that new dollars for much needed enrollment growth are included in the budget, and that they are tied to improvements in transfer acceptance, time-to-degree, increasing underrepresented student success and graduation rates — and, especially in serving more California students.

A last-minute funding increase is necessary and will be welcome, but it will only be a temporary fix.

This year’s funding debate raises once again the need for an overarching plan for higher education, one that reflects today’s economy and diverse student body.

A new plan for higher education is long overdue and should target increased college access, improved success that includes closing the unacceptable equity gaps by race and ethnicity, meeting workforce demand and holding colleges accountable.

Some reforms in higher education – like streamlining the transfer process from community colleges to four-year universities — are already underway. Others – like better counseling, reforming the remedial education system and resolving bottlenecks in required courses — need to be launched and supported.

Students and families have been faced with rising college costs, inability to access the classes they need, fewer support services on campus and a longer time to graduation. Let’s not add to that troubling list the elimination of the very funding that protects their spots in college.

Our Governor and legislators must act first to honor the long-standing promise of a college education for all qualified California students by sufficiently funding our state’s public colleges and universities to meet capacity. Our colleges and universities must then maintain the confidence of the California voters, parents and students that tax and tuition dollars are being well spent.

The debate on whether or not to fund college enrollment when student and workforce demand is so high, is short-sighted. It’s time to rise above the annual budget debates and get serious about long-term, serious investments in higher education and the very people who will lead our state into the future.

Ed’s Note: Michele Siqueiros is the president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.


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