UCs Accept More Nonresidents


This summer, the big debate within the UC system revolved around tuition hikes. In response to the $650 million reduction in state funding to the UC system, the UC Board of Regents approved a 9.6 percent tuition hike. Of course, when compounded with the 8 percent tuition increase approved last November, the cost of admission now totals $12,192 for California residents. And one mustn’t forget room, board, and all the other pesky add-ons that help bring the grand total to around $31,000 a year for Californians. What no one is talking about is that you will be damn lucky to pay your hard earned dough to the UC of your choice because out-of-state kids are being accepted in droves.

The unpublicized solution to the UC budget crisis is the soaring acceptance rates of out-of-state students who are obligated to pay virtually twice what a California student would. The UC system has calculated that every one percent increase in nonresident students brings in nearly $1 million. Thus, the more desirable UCs are employing this tactic by luring in sun-deprived out-of-state hopefuls and relegating actual qualified Californians to lesser institutions within the system.

UC Berkeley, the flagship campus, is the poster child for this unsettling trend. Last year, 31 percent of admitted students came from outside California. Of course, UCLA and UCSD are no better with an equally staggering 30 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

The UC system isn’t the first public higher education system to turn to nonresidents, but it breaks its decades old promise to California families. Michigan and Wisconsin are known for accepting  high rates of out-of-state students. However, while they certainly aren’t turning down the increased revenue, it is not their primary motivation. Michigan and Wisconsin are slow-growth states with considerably smaller pools of qualified students to choose from.

California, on the other hand, is far from being in that boat. California is a high-growth state with more qualified students than it could possibly accommodate in its top-tier universities. At a crucial time like this, California should not be abandoning an entire generation of hardworking students in favor of economic gain.

Admittedly, the state did throw the UC system under the bus, and at this point, the UC Board of Regents is essentially fighting for solvency and survival. This will be the first year that the University of California will receive more money from tuition than from the state general funds, which is a mindboggling statistic to say the least.  The flood of out-of-state students might be rationalized as purely a short term stopgap to fix the problem, but if the practice continues it will have long term implications and ramifications.

The paradox is that the University of California is relying on its prestige to draw in nonresidents, but by admitting these nonresidents, the UC system could potentially put its reputation at risk. By converting itself into a union of essentially semi-private institutions, the UCs put themselves into more direct competition with elite private schools that have larger endowments and resources.

USC recently surpassed the traditionally dominant UCLA in the 2011 US News and World Report rankings, which doesn’t bode well for the health of the UC system. USC, which has an endowment more than twice the size of UCLA’s, quite simply outcompeted their public counterpart by using their endowment to fund both merit and need-based scholarships to poach the elite California high school students from the University of California system. Secondarily, they preyed on the unease of wealthy upper-middle-class families that were no longer enticed by subsidized tuitions to UC schools and were more concerned with whether or not their child would receive a world-class education a couple of years down the road.

Also, professors throughout the University of California fled en masse to private schools like Rice University that offered more security, essentially gutting the brain power of the entire UC system.

Honestly, Cal and UCLA, the gems of the UC system, will likely survive into the future because of their strong alumni support. They will likely follow the business model pioneered by the University of Michigan decades ago, and rely on private funding from alums from across the country as opposed to state funding.

Thus, the question isn’t necessarily whether privatizing the universities will help the schools, but more so whether it will help the state. The University of Michigan might still be considered one of the elite public institutions in the world, but how is the state of Michigan doing these days?

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, back when the University of California was the envy of every state in the nation, California viewed the UC system as an investment. The state government and taxpayers were willing to spend the big bucks to educate their students because they knew that in the end they would reap the rewards of having among the most educated bases in the country.  California’s rapid growth and success can partially be attributed to the phenomenal public higher education system that ensured the population was able to positively contribute to the health and wealth of the state as a whole.

The danger in admitting out-of-state students is that there is no guarantee of a return on that investment for the state. Nonresidents whose families and homes are elsewhere are less likely to remain in California after graduation to give back to the community that helped nurture them. Many will likely return home after four years, taking with them the expertise they obtained due to the generosity of the California taxpayers who helped foot the hefty bill.

We are entering a new era of public education. The traditional state school in California is now a vestige of a system that is no longer economically feasible. State schools will only be state schools in terms of geography. The good old days of all the California kids unloading onto the UC of their choice are behind us. If you are looking for guaranteed admission to the big state school of your choice, it’s time to move to North Carolina.