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Admissions data reflect a dearth of resources

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APRIL 22, 2014

Admissions data for the 2014-15 school year demonstrate UC campuses’ plan to rely more heavily on higher-paying international and out-of-state students to make up for insufficient state funding. The move is understandable and tolerable, as long as UC campuses continue to prioritize serving California residents.

With a 17.3 percent acceptance rate, UC Berkeley admitted a smaller percentage of students for the upcoming school year — about 1,300 fewer students than last year — than at any other time in its history. In an email to the campus community, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks explained fewer students were admitted this year because unexpected overenrollment has put a strain on resources in the past. He added that the campus utilized an expanded waitlist this year, so the overall number of students admitted should increase. While overall percentage of applicants admitted to UC Berkeley dropped this year, the number of international and out-of-state students is expected to grow from its current level of 20 percent to 23 percent over the next three years.

This increase in nonresident enrollment is a financial crutch for the campus, since such students pay more than $20,000 more in tuition than California residents annually. The administrators’ reliance on this source of funding creates a conflict between the UC system’s ability to fulfill its public mission — serving California residents — while maintaining or improving the level of academic excellence it offers.

If the state continues to provide insufficient funding for higher education, top public schools such as UC Berkeley are left with few choices if they are to continue providing students with a competitive education. As long as the administration cuts its own operating costs as much as possible, increasing the number of nonresident students is preferable to an increase in tuition. But not indefinitely. If the number of nonresident admits continues to climb as part of a long-term solution to diminished funding, the university will have to reconceptualize its public mission as an engine of economic opportunity for California students.

But there are some encouraging signs in the admissions data. Across the UC system, including at UC Berkeley, the number of Hispanic and Latino students admitted increased to about 20.8 percent of the admitted students pool — nearly a 3 percent increase from last year. For the first time, more Hispanic and Latino students were admitted than students identifying as white on the systemwide level. This is a step in the right direction toward providing opportunity to a greater swath of California’s population.

The long-feared trend toward privatization of the UC system, though, is apparent. Administrators’ reliance on nonresident tuition dollars in the short term is understandable and excusable, but it must not become the solution to state disinvestment. How that problem will be solved is much more uncertain.

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APRIL 22, 2014