By Katy Murphy
As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years.
Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier, a new analysis by the San Jose Mercury News shows.
The shift feels like a betrayal to some families coping with — or fearing — rejection by the distinguished university system, which was built by and for Californians but now is turning them away in record numbers.
“It feels like we’re being sold out, or the kids are being sold out,” said Rohini Ashok, a San Jose mother who started an online petition last week to draw attention to what she considers a crisis after reading a story in this newspaper about UC’s historic low acceptance rates for in-state students. The petition, “UC for Californians,” gathered 2,330 signatures in its first week.
But experts say the rise in higher-paying out-of-state students is the paradox of public higher education nationwide: Years of shrinking state support have forced schools to rely less on tax revenues and more on tuition, making public universities act more like private schools.
The newspaper’s May 1 report on falling in-state admissions rates touched off an outcry from families of college-bound students and prompted a deeper review of freshman enrollment numbers at each of the nine campuses. It revealed:
• The UC system enrolled about 700 more California freshmen in 2013 than in 2009, a 2 percent increase, and nearly 5,000 more freshmen from other states and countries — a 273 percent increase.
• About 57 percent of the added spots went to international students, and 30 percent to students from other states, while about 12 percent went to Californians.
• UC Berkeley enrolled 800 fewer California freshmen this academic year than in 2009, but it accepted about 580 more from other states and about 500 more from other countries.
But rolling back the number of out-of-state students would not make it easier for Californians to find a place at UC Berkeley or elsewhere, experts and policymakers say.
Out-of-state students pay nearly $36,000 per year in tuition compared to $12,900 for in-state students; UC collected a half-billion dollars last year alone in out-of-state fees. So cutting off that extra tuition revenue likely would mean fewer spaces and less financial aid for everyone.
It’s a dysfunctional system, but the colleges aren’t to blame, said Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, who heads the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee.
“If we want to have room for our kids, we’ve got to pay for it,” he said.
California is spending less than half of what it did in 2000 for each UC student, a new California Budget Project report found. Despite a 5 percent state funding increase last year following the passage of the Proposition 30 education tax measure, per-student funding still hovers near 30-year lows.
UC Berkeley gets less than half of what it did from the state a decade ago, in inflation-adjusted dollars, said John Wilton, Cal’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.
By contrast, he said, Cal’s revenue from out-of-state and international students has grown to about $160 million, about 7 percent of its annual operating budget and more than half of its current state subsidy.
Those figures help explain why Berkeley is enrolling fewer California freshmen and more non-Californians.
“I was shocked when I looked at the numbers myself,” Wilton said.
But he says the universities already are educating more California students with less money, and they cannot be expected to dramatically boost their in-state enrollment. In-state tuition, he said, doesn’t cover a student’s education cost.
“The math doesn’t work,” he said.
Some parents, seeing the high salaries of its athletic coaches and top administrators, say UC should be spending its money more prudently — an argument Gov. Jerry Brown often makes to the system’s leaders.
“State government will continue to raise the budget, and it will never be enough, because you’re always raising the cost,” said Neeraj Agarwal, a Fremont dad who signed the petition.
His daughter Priya is a junior at Hayward’s Moreau Catholic High School. She is at the top of her class, he said, but falling admission rates at Cal, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC San Diego have left him worried and frustrated.
That more students are being turned away from their state’s university is “a huge problem,” said Nina Robinson, chief policy adviser to UC President Janet Napolitano.
“Our mission is to educate Californians,” she said. “That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. We can’t continue to do that without a substantial amount of new resources.”
Out-of-state and international students bring rich diversity to campus, but it’s not right that UC has been balancing the budget on their backs while turning away qualified Californians, said Kareem Aref, president of the UC Student Association and a UC Riverside senior.
UC could do more to trim administrative bloat, he said, but “I think the blame falls mostly on the state for not funding the UC the way they were supposed to.”
Across the country, students rejected from their state’s flagship schools must decide whether to attend a less-selective state college, go to a community college to reapply as a transfer student, or pay more to attend a private school — or a flagship university in another state.
“They’re turning students away from UC Berkeley, UCLA and San Diego, so those applicants decide, ‘I will go instead to the University of Michigan,’ ” said Robert Shireman, a former U.S. Department of Education official who directs the Oakland-based California Competes research and advocacy group.
UC’s tuition freeze — brokered with the state in return for a slight budget increase — also is contributing to the trend, Shireman said, by cutting off revenue that could expand enrollment.
Instead, he said, UC’s “strategy is resulting in Californians paying higher tuition, but not to the University of California.”