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Are Enough Californians Attending UC?

Jacob Jackson May 29, 2015

At the recent UC Board of Regents meeting, the regents approved a plan by Governor Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano—among other things, it freezes in-state tuition, reforms the pension system, and increases transfer student enrollment in exchange for extra funding from the state. However, it does not fund any additional California resident enrollment, suggesting that without legislative action for more funding, campuses may not increase enrollment for in-state students.

Enrollment growth for California residents at UC has slowed since the recession, while at the same time the proportion of out-of-state students has grown to an all-time high. UC officials acknowledge that out-of-state enrollment has grown as a result of statewide budget cuts. They contend that the extra tuition paid by out-of-state students enables UC to admit more California residents than it could otherwise. And even with the fast growth of out-of-state students in the UC system, California residents still make up over 80% of UC freshmen. But are enough Californians attending the UCs?

One way to answer that question is to see if UC is meeting the requirements of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education. The plan indicates that the UCs should choose from among the top 12.5% of students in the state. If we examine the proportion of California high school graduates admitted to the UC system, we find that UC admits more than 12.5% of California high school graduates. This percentage declined between 2007 and 2010 during the recession (also during the increase in out-of-state students), but it never dipped below 13%.

Let’s also consider the number of students receiving a UC education. Only 7.4 % of California’s high school graduates enroll at a UC as freshmen—far short of the 13.7 % admitted. Some students choose to attend other competitive schools, others decline to enroll at UC after being rejected from their first-choice campus, and still others may prefer a cheaper or closer-to-home option such as starting at a community college or attending a CSU. Lastly, let’s look at the number of students who are ready and eligible for UC. As the percentage of high school graduates admitted to a UC has declined, the percentage of public high school students who complete the UC eligibility requirements has grown. This comes at a time when the state needs to be producing more college graduates to meet the demands of the state’s future economy.

So, are there enough Californians in the UC system? Even with the influx of out-of-state students, the UC system is currently meeting the expectations of the Master Plan for admission. However, the combination of a growing number of UC-ready students and a low yield rate for admits suggests that a shrinking share of students who could benefit from a UC education are getting a UC education—especially if California resident enrollment does not continue to grow.

PPIC and others have suggested that the state review and revise the Master Plan. In the context of today’s debates over enrollment at the state’s universities and colleges, California’s leaders should update the goals of California’s higher education systems and work out how to meet and appropriately fund them.

Notes: (TOP CHART) University of California Office of the President. (BOTTOM FIGURE): Author’s calculations from data from the California Department of Education and University of California Office of the President.

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