Pinched by state budget cuts, the University of California system has set its sights on a lesser tapped resource: well-off students from beyond the Golden State.
The system accepted nearly twice as many non-California freshmen for this fall as it did two years ago, opening its doors to students willing to pay a premium to attend the state's top universities.
UC officials are aggressively courting non-resident students through college fairs and high school counselors. UC San Diego, which had the system's biggest admissions jump, offers a separate brochure that could have come from the local tourist bureau, complete with photos of surfers and sun-drenched beaches.
System officials say the push beyond California's borders is overdue and that other elite public schools such as the University of Michigan fill a third or more of their slots with out-of-state students. About 7 percent of UC undergraduates are nonresidents, though the percentage is higher at UC Berkeley and UCLA.
"It helps us support Californians," said UC President Mark Yudof outside the Capitol on Tuesday as he prepared to lobby lawmakers for more funding. "Our budgets were cut a billion dollars. We charge the nonresidents over $30,000 each, and it frees up some money to educate resident Californians."
UC is receiving 30 percent less state funding than it did in 2007-08, nearly $1 billion. Over that same period, UC has raised its full-price undergraduate resident costs by 84 percent. For the first time, tuition now covers more of UC's costs than state funding.
Nonresident undergraduates pay a $22,878 annual surcharge on top of in-state tuition and fees of $12,192. The Legislative Analyst's Office says the $35,070 total price tag more than pays for the costs of education.
UC policy forbids the proportion of out-of-state undergraduates to exceed 10 percent systemwide, and it expects to stay under that level despite admitting more nonresidents.
But the UC Students Association says the push robs in-state students of access and prioritizes affluent families who can afford private-school tuition levels.
"It's more than unfortunate, it's more than sad," said Claudia Magana, a first-generation college student and president of the UC Students Association. "Its focus and commitment is on pursuing students who can basically fill the budget gap."
Californians not affected?
UC officials insist that recruiting more international and out-of-state students has no impact on how many Californians the system serves. They say UC campuses have more space than they can use at the moment, but lack enough state funding to pay for residents beyond current staffing levels.
"We have the capacity to educate more students, whether that's Californians or those from out-of-state," said UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein. "We just don't have the money to do so. It's not as though there's no more room at the inn and the outsiders are taking it."
But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office says that allowing more out-of-state students into selective campuses such as UC Berkeley and UCLA may force California students to their second-choice schools. The UC system ensures that the top 12.5 percent of California high school graduates can attend at least one of its nine undergraduate campuses. But each campus can impose more stringent criteria.
Though all of the long-established UC campuses fare well in national and international academic rankings, Berkeley and UCLA typically finish highest. The schools are the most popular among nonresidents, each drawing more than 20,000 applications from non-Californians for this fall's freshman class.
At the flagship Berkeley campus, the number of freshman nonresidents spiked the last two years while the number of California students dropped, according to initial registration data. In 2009, 89.3 percent of those who accepted an offer from Berkeley came from California. Last year, that number was down to 70.2 percent.
Between 2009 and 2011, 1,056 fewer Californians claimed a spot in Berkeley's freshman class, while 1,076 more nonresidents took first-year spots, virtually a one-for-one swap.
Berkeley officials ultimately want one-fifth of undergraduates to come from outside California. Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said the drop in resident freshmen came because the school is "trying to bring in-state new freshman student enrollment closer to what is funded by the state."
Davis is recruiting globally
UC Davis also has moved aggressively into nonresident admissions.
In 2009, 4 percent of the entering UC Davis freshmen came from outside California. Last year, that figure was 8.2 percent.
The school's new assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions, Walter Robinson, came from Berkeley with experience recruiting students from across the globe.
Robinson said he just returned last month from a college fair tour in the Middle East. Most of Davis' international students currently come from Asia, and Robinson is hoping to recruit more in Latin America, the Middle East and eventually Africa and Western Europe. He said the school also tries to find students in the northwest and northeast United States.
UC Davis sets up video conferences to woo recruits, holds receptions for admitted students and talks to out-of-state high school counselors.
"I will say that Davis is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the UC system," Robinson said. "Part of my goal is to change that."
For this school year, Davis admitted 74 percent of those who applied from out of state, compared with 43 percent of Californians who applied.
Nonresidents generally come from more affluent backgrounds. They are ineligible for state financial aid, so have to pay the entire $35,070 each year.
"The lower-income students from out of state will self-select away from public universities outside their own state," Robinson said.
"What we see in the (nonresident) applicant pool are more middle- and upper-middle-income students applying, and many of them do come from private school."
Dominique Chao, a 22-year-old UC Davis senior from Thailand, said she chose Davis because she wanted to attend college in the United States and sought a different experience from her big-city life in Bangkok. She said the costs are high but that families in her country are willing to sacrifice.
"Due to the prestige and honor given to going to school in the U.S., parents are going to do whatever they can to fund education," she said. "It's highly prized."