It’s a dilemma that University of California officials have long refused to confront, but one they may soon have to face: How many foreign and out-of-state students can UC absorb and still fulfill its mission of providing an elite education for the very best California high school graduates?
The issue has become central at many UC campuses, where an unprecedented 20 percent of this year’s freshman class now hails from outside California.
The tens of thousands of out-of-staters are a revenue bonanza for the system, whose support from the state budget is hundreds of millions of dollars lower today than it was 10 years ago, even if it has rebounded a bit from the lows of the Great Recession.
UC now depends greatly on the $23,000 surcharge out-of-state residents pay above the standard in-state tuition of $12,192. That provided the system with almost half a billion dollars last year and will yield even more in 2015.
But even the 20 percent overall figure is misleading. For at the most in-demand UC campuses, Berkeley, UCLA and San Diego, about 30 percent of new students this fall were foreign or from other states. Meanwhile, at the least in-demand campuses, Merced and Riverside, out-of-staters among freshman were just 1.2 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. This brings the average for the system way down. But just like California high school grads, few out-of-state students are clamoring for admission to Merced and Riverside.
All this leaves UC officials and advocates able to claim accurately that “UC has not reduced the number of California students it admits,” as retired UCLA Chancellor Charles Young put it in response to a previous column, “either in the total number or the percentage of…high school graduates.”
But with about five times as many out-of-staters today as 10 years ago, Berkeley and UCLA and San Diego unquestionably admit fewer Californians even though their enrollments are up a bit. Yes, all Californians in the top 9 percent of their high school classes are offered UC slots, but decreasingly at the campuses they – and the out-of-staters – most want to attend.
There are some signs the complaints of students shunted off to campuses they don’t really want in order to make way for the high-paying out-of-staters are finally being heard.
UC President Janet Napolitano and other officials this fall have indicated they may consider putting some kind of lid on admissions of non-Californians, even though they simultaneously insisted they’ve kept the university’s longtime commitment to California kids and their taxpaying parents by increasing class sizes to allow for the influx of non-Californians. They also propose to raise tuition in each of the next five years, a plan vehemently opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. No one says publicly this is intended to make up for taking fewer out-of-staters in coming years, but it looks like one intent.
All this reinforces the fact that the most elite of UC’s campuses increasingly cater to the wealthy, whether from other American states or from foreign counties like China and Saudi Arabia which – rolling in cash – fund full tuition for many of their young citizens at UC.
It’s not that in-state students are not already paying plenty, too. UC tuition has just about tripled over the last decade, increases topping 20 percent in some years. In terms of non-inflated money, in 1980 the value of a median-level California home would buy more than 200 years of UC education. By 2011, it bought only about 30 years.
Which means tuition has climbed even fast than housing costs, stunning in a state where home prices have risen faster and higher than anywhere else in America.
While it’s true that the influx of well-funded, high-paying non-California students increases diversity on campuses, much of that diversity could also be achieved by recruiting more heavily from underserved parts of California like the Central Valley, home to myriad ethnic groups.
The bottom line is that more highly qualified California kids than ever are being turned away from their first-choice campuses, displaced by students from elsewhere.
It’s an open question whether and when their parents’ displeasure over this will lead legislators to reduce budget support for UC even more than they already have. That’s why Napolitano & Co. must confront this entire issue, and soon.