Too many California students are being shut out of UC

University of California, Berkeley, student Kristian Kim throws fake money while starting a tuition protest during a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco in March.
University of California, Berkeley, student Kristian Kim throws fake money while starting a tuition protest during a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco in March. The Associated Press

California’s landmark Master Plan for Higher Education, passed in 1960, called for the University of California to admit the top 12.5 percent of the state’s high school graduates.

Fifty-five years later, the UC is meeting that broad goal. However, a closer look at admissions and enrollment data during the past eight years reveals some troubling trends that, along with tuition increases, threaten to undermine California’s guiding higher education blueprint.

The master plan envisioned a three-tiered hierarchy – community colleges, the California State University and the UC system – to make sure all California students, regardless of ability to pay or high school performance, had access to a quality education.

With the UC proposing dramatic tuition hikes, the state Assembly has begun to scrutinize the nine-campus system’s finances, as well as its admissions and enrollment patterns. On April 21, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance received a startling report.

Between 2007 and 2014, the number of applications to UC campuses increased dramatically. Yet, admission rates for California residents fell significantly, from 87 percent in 2007 to just 62 percent in 2014. Rates were even lower at the UC’s flagship campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Overall freshman enrollment during the past eight years was flat, decreasing at two-thirds of campuses and with most of the increase at UC Merced, the system’s newest campus.

Even though the UC is admitting 13 percent of California high school graduates, complying with the master plan, actual enrollment is roughly 7.5 percent, down from about 9 percent before the recession.

Many of the UC campuses are getting harder and harder to get into. The UC has managed to meet its admission goals by increasingly referring applicants to two campuses. However, less than 10 percent of those students end up enrolling. We don’t know where they’re going, but we know it’s not to a UC.

As California-resident enrollment rates drop, enrollment of out-of-state and international students has skyrocketed. Nonresident enrollment at UC campuses grew by 283 percent between 2007 and 2014.

That makes sense: The UC system makes money off of nonresident tuition. As the report to the budget subcommittee noted, nonresident students pay more than $22,000 per year above what Californians pay, and the campuses keep that revenue.

But while it’s good for the schools, it’s not much help to California’s high school graduates, who are increasingly shut out from a high-quality education at home.

While all this has been happening, the UC has been raising administrators’ salaries, which sends a tone-deaf message to California families and taxpayers – especially the many middle-class students who are being squeezed out, not wealthy enough to shoulder rising costs and not poor enough to qualify for financial aid.

The Assembly has embarked on a zero-based budgeting process with the UC, which not only allows us to make sure each dollar is being spent effectively, but also gives a close look at these admissions and enrollment patterns.

The bottom line for the authors of the report to the subcommittee was that current trends at UC are “at odds with future state workforce needs for more bachelor’s degrees and the state’s emphasis on community college transfer.”

If the UC stays on its current path, it won’t be preparing nearly enough resident graduates with the education and skills they need to fill the state’s increasingly demanding jobs. I and my colleagues intend to do something about that.

Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, represents the 78th Assembly District.