Concerns over rising tuition costs and new student fees haven’t dimmed interest in California’s public university systems. Both the University of California and California State University saw a record number of applications from high school seniors and transfer students this year, according to figures released Thursday.
UC reported that 193,873 students applied to at least one of its nine undergraduate campuses during the application cycle that ended on Nov. 30, a 5.8 percent increase over last fall and the 11th consecutive year of record high numbers. At the 23-campus CSU system, the number of applicants was up 2.3 percent this fall, to 290,473, the sixth consecutive record high for the university.
It’s unclear how many more of those students UC and CSU will be able to accept. Both universities have budgeted for only modest enrollment increases in the coming year – 1 percent at UC and 3 percent at CSU – though they are pushing the state for more money to meet growing demand.
UC launched a major political battle last month when it approved potential 5 percent tuition hikes for each of the next five years, in part to fund new student slots, over the objections of Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders. CSU has been embroiled in its own controversy over campus-based “success fees” that some students have complained are a workaround to a promised tuition freeze, stirring concerns over affordability in higher education.
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Michele Siqueiros, president of the higher education advocacy group Campaign for College Opportunity, said the growth in applications is inevitable with California’s changing demographics, as well as record high school graduation rates and the demands of the economy.
“Regardless of the cost, the value of a college degree is just pretty clear to young people,” she said.
But the rising cost of a UC or CSU education may deter students who are admitted from actually attending, Siqueiros added. “Students and families across the state are not going to check that box and send their first tuition check in until they’re sure they can afford it.”
Tuition decisions made by the universities and funding for financial aid from the state, she said, “will affect who gets to go.”
It’s become increasingly competitive at UC, where admissions at the premier Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses dipped below 20 percent of applicants for the first time last year. Applications from high school seniors were up to 158,146 this fall, more than double the number a decade ago.
At CSU, first-time freshman applications jumped more than 4 percent to 185,125, while transfers dipped slightly, by about half a percent.
The most popular CSU campuses were Long Beach, which received 83,415 applications, and San Diego, which received 80,606. Applications to Sacramento State were up 5.5 percent from last year, to 34,271. Campus-specific data for UC will be available in January.
Both systems boasted of their growth in Latino applicants, who now make up the largest percentage of applicants from California.