Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Are California public universities harder to get into now?

University of California President Janet Napolitano talks with Gov. Jerry Brown during a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco on March 18, 2015.
University of California President Janet Napolitano talks with Gov. Jerry Brown during a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco on March 18, 2015. The Associated Press

In the midst of a fierce budget battle with the University of California earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown expressed his concern that UC no longer belonged to the “normal people of California.”

“You got your foreign students and you got your 4.0 folks,” he remarked at the January meeting of UC’s governing board, “but just the kind of ordinary, normal students, you know, that got good grades but weren’t at the top of the heap there – they’re getting frozen out.”

He wasn’t wrong, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity, which just released a new report on the state’s public higher education systems entitled “Access Denied.” It found that the percentage of Californians being turned away from UC and California State University has doubled over the past two decades, due to rapid growth in the number of college-eligible students and an availability of slots that hasn’t kept pace.

In 2013, for example, 21 percent of California high school graduates applied to at least one UC campus, compared to 17 percent in 1996. But the admissions rate stayed relatively flat during that time, with 14 percent of graduates accepted into the system.

The contrast is even more stark at CSU, a much larger and less selective system long seen as the university to educate the masses. While about 27 percent of California high school graduates applied to CSU in 2000, and 20 percent were admitted, that figure had risen to 46 percent of graduates in 2013, with only 32 percent accepted.

The result is an admissions process that has gotten ever more competitive: Six of the nine undergraduate UC campuses have freshmen classes with an average weighted GPA above a 4.0. “Those who wish to attend the UC must have near perfect grades and scores to get in, something we did not expect of previous generations,” the Campaign for College Opportunity wrote.

More California students are ending up at community colleges, where they are less likely to transfer and complete their studies. In fall 2013, only 11 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds in the state attended a four-year university – ranking 49th in the country – a troublesome figure if California is to close an expected degree shortage of 1.1 million over the next decade.

Representatives from the Campaign for College Opportunity, including UC Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley, are holding a webinar at 11 a.m. to discuss the report and their policy recommendations.

UC and CSU are already taking some steps to expand access. Both systems have lobbied heavily in recent years for budget increases from the state, which they argue is critical if they are to admit more Californians. UC recently approved a plan to enroll 10,000 additional resident students over the next three years, and CSU is seeking funding to grow by more than 50,000 during that time.

AROUND THE WATER COOLER: California water agencies are under tremendous pressure to hit huge state-mandated conservation targets during this fourth year of drought – which will surely be a major topic of conversation when they gather in Indian Wells this week for their annual fall conference and exhibition. The five-day event, starting today at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa, includes sessions on topics like water rights, desalination and pricing water; featured remarks from California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus, and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt; and a golf tournament.

GET ON THE BUS: California may be a solidly pro-choice state, but the politics of abortion rights are never settled. They were raised numerous times this past legislative session, from a new law targeting anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” to a rejected audit request of Planned Parenthood in the wake of a series of undercover videos accusing the clinics of illegally selling fetal tissue for medical research. That controversial investigation has also spurred Students for Life of America to launch a cross-country “Women Betrayed” bus tour, which aims to eliminate public funding for Planned Parenthood. The two-week trek kicks off in Sacramento, 9 a.m. outside the Planned Parenthood on B Street, and will continue through at least 15 more states.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff