Do qualified resident applicants to the University of California get turned away from their school of choice and referred to the campus at Merced because out-of-state students are taking their spots?
State auditor Elaine Howle argued Wednesday that a UC policy guaranteeing all eligible Californians admission somewhere in the system also demonstrates how thousands of them have been displaced through recent policies increasing recruitment and enrollment of students from outside the state and overseas.
According to UC data compiled by Howle’s office, nonresident enrollment exploded by 82 percent between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 academic years, while the number of Californians actually dropped at the most popular campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego.
During the same time, thousands of resident high school seniors rejected from other campuses were offered a spot at Merced, which fewer than 3 percent of them accepted. There are nearly 80 percent more students being referred to an alternative UC campus than a decade ago, though the number has fluctuated between 9,000 and 12,000 for most of the past seven years.
“That’s where we reached the conclusion that there’s displacement,” Howle told lawmakers at a hearing. “Because if there wasn’t a capacity issue, you wouldn’t need a referral program.”
UC asserts that hundreds of millions of dollars generated annually from a $24,708 supplemental fee paid by nonresidents are a financial necessity following deep budgets during the economic recession and underwrite thousands of slots for Californians that the state no longer pays for.
Stephen Handel, UC’s associate vice president for undergraduate admissions, said the university has made the best of a bad financial situation by continuing to admit all eligible resident applicants where there is space. He pointed out that California State University, which does not have the same nonresident demand, has had to turn away tens of thousands of qualified students completely.
“Other colleges and universities would have simply denied them,” he said. “We admitted them.”
Their testimony came during a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing that followed on last week’s blistering state audit of UC, which ripped the university’s policies allowing campuses to set their own enrollment targets and keep the revenue as an incentive to favor out-of-state students.
The expansive report also criticized UC for not seeking further budget savings before pursuing the new enrollment strategy; for its high executive compensation and generous benefits; and for not developing an actual cost of instruction that could justify its years of tuition increases.
The university sharply and summarily dismissed the audit’s findings and most of its recommendations as “neither accurate nor helpful,” releasing a lengthy report of its own disputing characterizations of its admissions policies and finances.
On Wednesday, some legislators criticized UC’s response as “tone deaf.” Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, asked the university to acknowledge where it could improve its operations and be a part of the solution.
“The very same alumni that you contacted telling them to contact our offices before this hearing to say good things, I’m hearing from them and they’re disappointed,” she said.
Others defended the university’s strategy to “keep the lights on” during the recession. Assemblyman Das Williams said he would keep fighting for more state funding for UC.
“You’re giving us kind of a convenient thing to blame,” he told Howle. We should “blame ourselves that we can’t come up with enough money.”