As California continues to reel during this economic downturn, the University of California has been one of the biggest victims of this financial debacle. Once again, higher education has been hit with budget cuts. In response, those who run one of the best public school systems in the country recently got together and discussed in length (read: desperately) the different solutions they could possibly enact, such as retooling UC admissions policies, in order to meet Governor Terminator’s budget cuts.
One controversial proposal is to bring in more out-of-state students to make up the difference in the budget. Currently, a nonresident who attends UC Irvine pays an out-of-state fee of over $20,000. For new freshmen in the dorms, UCI admission estimates have them paying $44,453.50 for their first year. Compare that figure to the $23,845.50 that in-state residents looking to dorm would pay and you have part of the money that would fix the chasm that resulted from the budget cuts.
Since the establishment of the UC and the first public university in California (Berkeley), the idea was that the state of California would fund the state’s public universities. If you are a California resident, your family’s taxes go toward the state’s public school system and education, which makes up about 40 percent of the state budget. As an acknowledgement of their family’s financial contribution, the UC makes California high school students a priority in enrollment. By the numbers, 90 percent of the 220,000 students that comprise the system are from California, so 10 percent are from out of state. Of that 10 percent, only 6 percent are undergraduates.
Many Californians are angry that the UC appears to be turning its back on its own students, whose families have paid taxes to the state for generations. Our economic position right now is precarious; we will be $213 million in the red come the end of this academic year. It would take over 10,000 out-of-state students paying the extra $20,000 to cover the difference. And this is assuming our state politicians don’t take some of that money to cover the rest of the $41 billion shortfall that is plaguing the rest of the state. However, a policy that accepts out-of-state students in order to fix a dreadful fiscal situation is irresponsible and immoral.
That being said, why shouldn’t we accept out-of-state students over California students? There are very good reasons to do so, reasons that are not fiscally motivated. I am not suggesting a 50-50 split between California and out-of-state students, but to have only six percent of undergraduates in the system from outside our borders is indefensible.
Since priority is given to California students, admission processes are made more difficult for out-of-state competitors. Their standardized testing scores and GPAs need to be higher, their extracurricular activities more significant and diverse. Those who do manage to cross the state line are clearly exemplary students, some of whom are passing up scholarship opportunities for universities in their home state. These students are highly sought after.
It is worth considering that several other first-class public universities accept a higher number of out of state applicants than the UC does: the University of Virginia has 30 percent of its undergraduates from different states and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor boasts 34 percent of its undergraduates from out-of-state or other countries.
Instead of punishing students for being born far away, the UC should consider raising its own admissions standards for California residents. In September 2004, the UC passed a rule to raise the minimum eligibility requirements for an in-state student to a UC from a 2.8 GPA to a 3.0 GPA. This move was the result of the UC system and its quota.
Historically, if a student was either in the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates in the state, the student was guaranteed a spot at a UC; it may not have been the UC of their choice, but a spot within the state system, where fees are cheaper, was assured. That particular year, the number of overall eligible California seniors was 14.4 percent, up from 11.1 percent in 1996; consequently, there were too many eligible students. So the UC raised its requirements to remove anywhere from 700-750 students from eligibility. Of that 12.5 percent, 8 to 9 percent of students end up enrolling in the UC, while others take admissions at other colleges or universities.
As of right now, admission is guaranteed into a UC for students if they fall in the top 9 percent of high school graduates statewide, as well as those in the top 9 percent of their own class, referred to in the UC eligibility index as “Eligibility in the Local Context,” or ELC. Guaranteed admission only means one guaranteed acceptance into a UC. Just because a student has above a 3.0 GPA does not mean that acceptance into UC Berkeley or UC Los Angeles is assured. But maybe UCI, UC Davis or UC Santa Barbara might accept them. And if not, then maybe a letter will come in the mail from UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside or UC Merced.
So if a student did well in high school, he or she has a guaranteed spot. But where does this sense of entitlement come from? Is it because the family pays taxes? Or is it because the student worked hard in high school? Some students don’t study hard until they get to college. Most of you reading this probably are Californian and have at least a friend or two in an out-of-state university or a private college. They probably pay much more than you do unless they are on scholarship. They worked hard in high school to get where they are now. Their parents pay taxes to this state and after high school, don’t see a dime returned to their son or daughter’s education.
Know that if you are an out-of-state student, the state of California saw you as elite and invested in you as such. Every student enrolled in the UC has a spot that is the envy of thousands of college students nationwide. It is up to you, the student, to make the most of the opportunity. And if you find yourself not being accepted to a UC, know that you have squandered an opportunity that others, some who were more qualified than you, were denied.
It is wrong to bring in more students just to make ends meet. But raising our number of out-of-state students (UCI has 4 percent of its undergraduate population from outside the state) shouldn’t be about money, but about opportunity. To deny a more qualified candidate because of his or her residency is a crime. It is wrong to deny those qualified for the UC a chance to help diversify the campus with other points of views and backgrounds. It is embarrassing to think of how hypocritical this forward-minded entity is acting in shutting its borders to better applicants.
Harry Nguyen is a third-year biological sciences and criminology, law and society double-major. He is also a peer academic advisor. He can be reached at email@example.com.