Capitol Alert

Resident enrollment dropped at University of California last year

Students walk through Sather Gate at UC Berkeley.
Students walk through Sather Gate at UC Berkeley. Associated Press file

Following a blistering budget battle with Gov. Jerry Brown last year that stirred debate about tuition increases and recruiting out-of-state students, the number of Californians enrolled at the University of California has dropped.

About 1,600 fewer California students were enrolled at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses last fall as compared with the fall 2014 semester, including 1,317 fewer resident freshmen. UC declined to provide a breakdown by campus.

While the university and the state fought over money last spring, UC instructed campuses to keep enrollment flat. All colleges have to estimate how many of the students they admit will ultimately enroll, and campuses offered to accept about 1,150 fewer Californians than they did the previous year. Spokeswoman Dianne Klein said not as many of them agreed to attend as UC expected.

“This is a very inexact science. It’s more art than science,” Klein said. “The campuses were a little conservative.”

1,317Decrease in the number of resident freshmen at UC between fall 2014 and fall 2015

UC Davis reported that it enrolled 417 fewer resident freshmen and 294 fewer resident transfers last semester as compared with fall 2014, a decline of 9.5 percent. The number of new out-of-state and international students grew by 460, up 40 percent.

The drop came as UC is facing growing pressure to expand access for Californians. Last June’s budget deal included a $25 million incentive for the university if it adds 5,000 more slots for resident students by the 2016-17 academic year.

“It’s just extremely disappointing and frustrating for California families that we see a rationing of access to higher education,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who chairs the Assembly budget subcommittee that oversees higher education spending. “You’re missing a generation of students right now.”

Dissatisfaction with UC among parents and lawmakers has been bubbling up for years as the university turned its focus across the country and overseas to find more higher-paying nonresident students that could make up for deep budget cuts from the economic recession.

Nonresidents now make up about 15 percent of the undergraduate population across the system, reaching more than 20 percent at UC’s flagship campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles, where admissions are most competitive. UC has said the fees paid by out-of-state students supplement thousands of slots for Californians that are no longer funded by the state.

The controversy reached a fever pitch in November 2014, when UC President Janet Napolitano announced a plan to raise tuition by up to 5 percent annually for five years unless the state gave the university more money than it had already promised.

After six months of tense negotiations that saw UC publicly threaten to limit in-state enrollment, the final deal included four years of funding increases, a two-year tuition freeze and the enrollment incentive. In November, UC announced a plan to add 10,000 new slots for California students over the next three years, including 5,000 this fall, to be paid for in part by enrolling 3,000 more nonresidents during the same period.

It doesn’t change that we are going to have an influx of California students next year.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein

Klein said UC remains committed to that plan, and it will consequently seek to enroll more than 6,500 additional California freshman and transfers this year, to make up for the deficit while also meeting the 5,000-student incentive goal.

“It doesn’t change that we are going to have an influx of California students” this fall, she said.

UC enrolled 48,493 California freshmen and transfers in fall 2014, so it will need an estimated 53,493 this year to reach its goal, growth of about 10 percent.

The university has a larger pool to select from. On Monday, it reported a record 206,339 students had applied for admission in fall 2016. Of those, 138,246 are Californians, about 7.3 percent more than applied two years ago.

UC Davis said it has been asked to enroll 1,000 more new resident students this fall than it did last fall; it intends for two-thirds of those to be transfers. The campus also plans to add 135 more new nonresidents.

We need to draw the line. No more of this.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento

McCarty said lawmakers will hold UC to their enrollment plan. He added that he will introduce a bill with Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, in the coming weeks to create a mandatory ratio between California and out-of-state students at UC campuses.

“We need to draw the line,” McCarty said. “No more of this.”

Klein said UC had no response to his proposal, but noted that nonresident enrollment at UCLA and Berkeley is flat, as the university promised last year.

“Our focus has been on making sure we increase access for Californians,” she said.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff