Large numbers of students are turned away from their campus of choice each year because many California universities receive more freshman and transfer applications than they can admit. At the California State University (CSU), campuses with more applications than they can admit are called “impacted.” All but 2 of the 23 CSU campuses have at least one program of study impacted for the 2020–2021 school year; at 7 campuses every program is impacted.
For CSU, students can easily apply to more than one campus. One application covers all campuses, and students pay a $70 per-campus fee for each school they select (although about half receive fee waivers). First-time freshman applicants and transfer applicants both apply to around 3 CSU campuses on average (3.3 campuses for freshmen, 2.6 for transfers).
About 32,000 eligible freshmen and transfer applicants were denied admission to their preferred CSU campus due to capacity issues in 2018. In 2019, CSU started a program to redirect denied students, offering admission to one of ten campuses with space. In the first year, about 20,000 students were offered admission at an alternate campus, and about 900 enrolled (4.5%), according the CSU Chancellor’s Office. The program was most successful among redirected transfer students, who enrolled at an 8.2% rate compared to freshmen at 1.9%.
We don’t know what happened to the students who did not enroll, as the state has no way of tracking student records between institutions. Some may have ended up at a UC, a private college, or other institution. Freshmen applicants may have decided to attend a community college with plans to transfer later. A statewide longitudinal data system can help the state create better policy around capacity in higher education.
As the CSU redirection program continues and applicants understand the process better, interest in the program—and enrollment rates—may increase. However, a similar long-standing program at the University of California has had similar low rates of enrollment from redirected students. CSU is considering ways to improve program timing and delivery; using their excess capacity to put almost 900 extra students on the road to a bachelor’s degree in the first year of the policy is already an important step.