As springtime admission and rejection letters went out from the nine undergraduate campuses of the University of California, the squeeze on this state’s most promising high school graduates became tighter than ever before.
That made it fair for many of those rejected despite meeting all qualifications to wonder just whose UC this great public university eventually will become.
Will it continue to be the fundamental goal and reward for the state’s high schoolers, motivating them to achieve and attempt ever more difficult academic challenges? Or will it become another playground for wealthy out-of-state and foreign students who can afford the almost $23,000 extra per year in tuition paid by non-California residents?
So far, that extra money — the difference between $13,200 in-state tuition this year and $36,078 for all others — has proved no hindrance to foreigners in particular. One reason: Governments of China and some Arab countries pay all tuition and expenses for many of their citizens who study at American universities.
Altogether, 13 percent of all UC undergraduates next fall will be from out of state, split just about evenly between foreign students and those from the other 49 states. That’s up from 12 percent this year and just 5 percent as recently as 2010.
There is no doubt a connection between that fast-growing out-of-state student-body element and the fact that state budget support of UC has declined over the past 10 years, though it was bulked up a bit this year with funds from the temporary taxes in Proposition 30, approved by voters in 2012.
UC officials maintain the out-of-staters displace no Californians in either the top 9 percent of their high school class or the top 9 percent statewide. Of course, UC used to accept the top 12 percent statewide, so despite that claim of no displacement, there unquestionably has been some.
Plus, the out-of-state proportion is higher at the most desired UC campuses — Berkeley and UCLA — compared with lower-demand locations like Merced and Riverside. Which suggests that in academia, money talks, especially the more than $120 million in extra yearly tuition to be paid by new out-of-state students.
Add in returning students and those in graduate and professional schools, and UC now gets nearly $1 billion more each year from out-of-staters than if the same slots went to Californians.
But California taxpayers built those nine campuses principally for the benefit of their children. It’s one thing to argue that a sprinkling of students from other places serves a sound academic purpose, but when do financial motives supplant that academic benefit?
The demographics of UC are also changing as fast as those of the state itself, where Latinos are now the largest ethnic group and Asian-Americans are a fast-growing minority. For the first time this year, UC accepted more Latino students than Anglos, 29 percent of incoming frosh being Latino to about 27 percent white. High-achieving Asian-Americans made up the plurality of admits among in-state students, at 36 percent.
Some of those new Latino students will be so-called “Dreamers” brought to this country as young children by undocumented immigrant parents. Typically, many such UC and California State University admits have been unable to accept their slots because as illegal residents they cannot get low-interest federal loans or grants.
But a program proposed by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara of southern Los Angeles County would allow at least some of them to get loans from the state if they can’t access federal ones.
New UC President Janet Napolitano, responsible for deporting thousands of the undocumented while serving as secretary of homeland security, backs that plan as it advances in the Legislature.
“These students … should have access to equivalent resources as their campus peers,” she told a legislative hearing.
It’s one thing, of course, for changes to occur because the state itself is different from before. But for UC to display the obvious financial motives that it has in admissions over the past few years is both unseemly and wrong. Far better to accept at least the top 10 percent of California high schoolers than to take foreign students just for their money, even if that means state government will have to pony up a bit more support.
Otherwise, UC will increasingly belong to highest bidders, a change in the purpose and gestalt of the entire university.
— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]