It’s a common story. California high school graduates with top grades and scores still aren’t able to get into the University of California campus of their choice.
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, says he hears that complaint from constituents “all the time – at Trader Joe’s, at soccer fields and walking down the street.” Instead of getting accepted to UC Berkeley or UCLA, many highly qualified students are referred to less popular campuses like UC Merced and UC Riverside. Meanwhile, nonresidents get their first choice at the most sought-after schools.
A decade ago, nonresident enrollment in the UC system was 5 percent.
He and other legislators asked UC last year to address the problem and are irritated that the university is proposing a 20 percent cap on nonresidents at most campuses, which is higher than the current system-wide percentage – 16.5 percent of UC’s 210,170 undergraduates.
UC’s proposal places an even higher nonresident cap on the most popular campuses, keeping it at existing levels – 24.4 percent at UC Berkeley, 22.9 percent at UC San Diego and 22.8 percent at UCLA. A decade ago, nonresident enrollment in the UC system was 5 percent.
“We strongly oppose the nonresident enrollment limit under discussion,” McCarty wrote in a letter co-signed by 15 other legislators last month. “We believe the proposal does not go far enough in restoring the University of California to its commitment to California taxpayers and students.”
Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, said the Legislature will likely ask UC to go back to the drawing board and come up with another option if it approves the proposed cap. The UC Board of Regents expects to make a decision on the issue in May.
UC staff say the nonresident tuition is necessary to make up for a lack of adequate state funding. Nonresident tuition helps pay for faculty, increasing course sections and improving student services among other things. Nonresidents contribute $70 million in financial aid for California residents, Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president of business operations at UC, told the Board of Regents last month. Moreover, nonresidents benefit California students by sharing their different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.
“The university’s decision to increase the enrollment of nonresidents has made it more difficult for California residents to gain admittance to the university.” — Elaine Howle
“Our current level of non-resident undergrads is actually critical to the success of all of our students,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block at that meeting.
The cap proposal is being considered by the UC Board of Regents because last year, the Legislature threatened to withhold $18.5 million if the university did not limit students from outside California. That move came on the heels of a blistering state audit that contended UC was harming California residents.
UC made a concerted effort to recruit more nonresidents in the wake of severe state cuts in the recession. The Master Plan for Higher Education in California said that the university should only admit non-residents whose academic qualifications were equivalent to the upper half of residents. But in 2011, the university relaxed that standard so nonresidents just had to “compare favorably” to residents.
“The university’s decision to increase the enrollment of nonresidents has made it more difficult for California residents to gain admittance to the university,” said state auditor Elaine Howle in the March 2016 report.
“We have to compete for the top scholars at the cutting edge of their disciplines.” — James Chalfant
James Chalfant, a UC Davis agriculture professor and chair of the Academic Senate, said UC should have no nonresident enrollment cap at all. A cap is bad policy for the state and doesn’t create funding for additional Californians to be enrolled, he said.
“All it will do is constrain campuses without causing new opportunities for Californians,” he said.
He pointed out that all qualifying Californians are guaranteed a spot at a UC campus, just not at the campus of their choice.
He bristled at the suggestion in the state audit that UC could find additional funding for more California students by trimming employee salaries. “We’re in an international marketplace for the best faculty,” he said. “We have to compete for the top scholars at the cutting edge of their disciplines.”
But legislators say UC is ignoring its own 2010 report by the University of California Commission on the Future which recommended that nonresident enrollment never exceed 10 percent. Like McCarty, Baker said she frequently fields constituent complaints about the difficulty of gaining entrance to UC schools.
“We’ve got to take care of Californians first,” he said. “I cannot feed my neighbors’ kids if my own kids are going hungry.” — Mike Gipson
“This was the No. 1 issue for families of all political backgrounds, all demographics, all economic backgrounds,” she said. “They see the University of California as inaccessible to families.”
Baker said she is sympathetic to the University of California about feeling the pinch of state cuts. Every state-supported entity faced cuts during economic hard times. However, UC needs to take responsibility too. “They need to start identifying ways they could be better stewards of the funding they are receiving,” she said.
Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, who requested the state audit said he is concerned about the effect on the push for nonresidents on under-represented state minorities. “We’ve got to take care of Californians first,” he said. “I cannot feed my neighbors’ kids if my own kids are going hungry.”
He believes the Legislature should ask for annual reports from UC on the percentage of nonresident enrollments. If not, the percentage might grow even higher, he said.
McCarty said he is hopeful that the UC Board of Regents will come up with a cap that better serves Californians.
“The good news is that for the first time ever UC is going to adopt a policy and formula which will limit the number of nonresident students,” he said.