California's community colleges have traditionally been the steppingstone for many students to reach the state's public universities.
But that equation appears to be changing, as California State University campuses have trimmed enrollment in response to budget cuts and private and out-of-state schools have beefed up community college recruitment.
New figures from the Los Rios Community College District show more community college students in the Sacramento region transferring to private colleges and out-of-state schools than to the University of California and California State University.
The district is the second-largest in the state and includes four colleges: Sacramento City, American River, Cosumnes River and Folsom Lake.
In the 2009-10 school year, the most recent data available, 2,222 Los Rios students transferred to UC and CSU campuses. The same year, 3,213 Los Rios students transferred to private or out-of-state colleges, according to figures the district released Wednesday.
That was a departure from prior years, when Los Rios sent more students to UC and CSU than private or out-of-state colleges.
Los Rios officials attribute the shift to rising tuition and enrollment cuts at California's public university systems, as well as more recruiting by private and out-of-state schools.
As the state has cut funding to public universities, tuition at UC and CSU has gone up by 50 percent in the last three years and CSU cut enrollment by more than 30,000 students.
That, in turn, caused a backlog of community college students waiting to transfer, said Los Rios spokeswoman Susie Williams.
"Some are waiting around two and three years to get into a CSU or UC," Williams wrote in an email to The Bee. "Some are waiting just to get in and some are finding that due to increased costs at the universities, they have to wait to save up money before they can transfer."
UC officials disputed the notion that rising tuition is causing students to lose interest in the state's premier university system. Statewide, applications to UC are up and the university has increased the number of transfer students it admitted each of the last seven years.
UC enrolled 708 Los Rios transfer students in fall 2010 a big increase from the prior year, but figures too recent to be reflected in the Los Rios transfer report. The number of Los Rios students who applied to transfer for the coming fall is also up, said UC spokesman Ricardo Vazquez.
Statewide, community college transfers to CSU are down from 54,971 in 2007 to 39,143 in 2010. CSU officials blamed state budget cuts for the drop in transfer students from Los Rios and statewide. After taking a 20 percent budget cut from the state, CSU closed spring admissions in the middle of the 2009-10 school year.
"When you completely close admissions down it's going to change the numbers," said spokeswoman Claudia Keith.
Statewide, community college students transferring to private schools in California rose from 19,771 in 2004 to 23,584 in 2009, according to state figures. Transfers to out-of-state schools rose from 12,141 to 17,025 during the same period.