Capitol Alert

UC pulls back welcome mat for nonresident students with first enrollment cap

Students walk on the UCLA campus on Feb. 26, 2015.
Students walk on the UCLA campus on Feb. 26, 2015. The Associated Press

Years of public outcry and political pressure have pushed the University of California to adopt its first-ever limit on out-of-state and foreign students at its nine undergraduate campuses.

Acknowledging concerns that surging nonresident enrollment cost some qualified California high schoolers a spot at the university, UC’s Board of Regents on Thursday approved a policy that allows five campuses, including Davis, to grow their proportion of nonresident students to no more than 18 percent. Four campuses that already exceeded that threshold – Berkeley, San Diego, Los Angeles and Irvine – will be capped at their ratios in the 2017-18 academic year.

“The policy strikes, in my view, the appropriate balance between resident and nonresident enrollment,” President Janet Napolitano said, “particularly given our commitment to enroll every eligible California resident and that nonresidents are added in addition to and not in place of California residents.”

UC stepped up its recruiting outside of California’s borders after losing $1 billion in state funding during the recession. Out-of-state and foreign students pay a nearly $27,000 supplemental fee on top of their tuition, generating hundreds of millions of dollars per year for the university.

As its budget grew again with the economic recovery, however, UC did not slow the flow of nonresidents. They currently comprise 16.5 percent of the system’s 210,000 undergraduates, including more than 24 percent at Berkeley and nearly 23 percent at San Diego and Los Angeles.

Simmering frustrations among state officials and families were ignited last year when an audit concluded that the tuition policy had disadvantaged resident students, leading to a drop in Californians enrolled at the university. UC strongly disputed those findings, arguing that nonresidents helped pay for thousands of slots for Californians who were not funded by the state.

In light of the audit, Gov. Jerry Brown withheld $18.5 million from UC until it developed a nonresident enrollment policy. The university is now eligible to receive that money, which it will use to add 2,500 more California undergraduates in the fall.

Regent George Kieffer said the limit was a necessary step in “keeping faith with the public.”

But two board members voted against the policy for being either too strict or not strict enough. Regent Hadi Makarechian, who immigrated from Iran as a student in the 1960s, passionately defended the value of bringing differing perspectives from out-of-state and foreign students into the academic environment: “I know the ‘in thing’ today is to build walls, but we are building a wall around the University of California by doing this.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff