Last year, in the midst of a battle over whether in-state students were being “crowded out” of the University of California, lawmakers gave UC a year to come back with a policy to limit the number of students admitted from out of state.
The worries were questionable at best; the 10-campus system still makes a space somewhere for every California undergraduate whose grades and test scores meet the criteria for admission. Californians still make up nearly 85 percent of enrollment, and even at first-choice campuses such as UCLA and UC Berkeley, 75 percent are in-state students.
Nonetheless, the state remains the system’s biggest and most important single donor. In fact, the request to certify a cap by May was attached to $18.5 million in state funding. So though the UC has constitutional autonomy, the better to insulate it from political pressure, the Board of Regents is talking about restricting out-of-state students for the first time in UC history.
The plan under discussion – to admit no more than one nonresident for every four Californian students, and to freeze current caps at UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley, where out-of-staters are roughly 23 percent to 24 percent of enrollment – is so reasonable, it’s surprising the regents haven’t passed it already. Systemwide, nonresident enrollment, now 16.5 percent of students, would be capped at 20 percent.
The limit is lower than average for public universities nationally, some of which are more than 50 percent nonresident students. It acknowledges the importance of a diverse geographic mix to young people who will graduate into a global workplace.
It also takes into account the critical need for another big revenue source, out-of-state tuition. Nonresidents at UC pay $27,000 a year over and above the in-state tuition; that money subsidizes financial aid, faculty salaries and other services.
California high school seniors may see out-of-state admissions as an infringement on their birthright. That anxiety translates into political pressure, and some lawmakers want an all-out freeze on out-of-state enrollment. But it’s not a zero sum game.
UC Berkeley is strapped; its brand depends on that money. UC Merced has scarcely any non-Californians; it needs to offer more than a blue-state bubble. But most of all, in an era of resistance against “America First” thinking, it’s hypocritical to scapegoat outsiders in our halls of higher education. Regents should pass this cap, and lawmakers should declare victory and move on. We have bigger battles to fight.