Report finds declining enrollment at UC and CSU related to budget cuts

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A recent report finds that Californian college enrollment in the UC and CSU systems has declined by about one-fifth over the past five years, due to declining funding for higher education.

Released by the Public Policy Institute of California on Wednesday, the report entitled “Defunding Higher Education: What Are the Effects on College Enrollment?” explores the relationship between budget cuts and the percentage of Californians that choose to enroll in college, concluding that California is moving in the wrong direction in terms of funding for education and undermining its economic future.

“California’s financial commitment to higher education has been compromised by fiscal crises and competing state priorities,” states the report, authored by Bren Policy Fellow Hans Johnson.

The report states that as a result of decreased funding, high school graduates in California are increasingly less likely to attend a four-year college. Among the category of best-prepared students — high school graduates who have completed the necessary courses for admission to the UC and CSU systems — this rate has declined from about 67 percent to 55 percent in the past five years, according to the report.

Some of these students now opt to attend California Community Colleges, which have seen their enrollment rates increase by 1 percent. However, the report states that this does not make up for the overall decline in enrollment.

“If current enrollment trends persist, California faces an alarming loss of college graduates — at a time when the state needs to be developing a more highly skilled workforce to ensure its future prosperity,” Johnson writes in the report.

The institute projects that the state will fall one million college graduates short of economic demand by 2025 unless current trends are reversed.

UC Berkeley’s 2012-2013 freshman admissions data seem to tell a different story. Although the demand for admission increased from about 53,000 applications last year to about 62,000 applying for the 2012-2013 freshmen class, the number of students admitted has remained relatively consistent at around 13,000. Of admitted applicants, 4,250 are expected to attend UC Berkeley, consistent with last year’s data. Underrepresented minority admission also increased by 2 percent, according to UC Berkeley admissions data.

“Enrollment rates have remained relatively flat over the past five years,” said UC spokesperson Brooke Converse, in an email. “Applications to UC campuses are at an all-time high, but budget constraints have prevented UC from increasing enrollment targets for California students. Campuses are being forced to turn away qualified students.”

The institute’s report suggests several policy alternatives, including a plan by which students postpone payment of tuition until after graduation and then pay a percent of their future earnings to the UC.

The report stresses the importance of funding California community colleges and judging schools based on student outcomes in terms of graduation rates and degree completion. Finally, the report indicates the need to bolster the Cal Grant program, which offers about $1 billion dollars in grants to low-income students.

However, according to a report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative for the November ballot includes a 61.7 percent cut to the California Student Aid Commission. This measure would affect about 26,600 students, making college enrollment decisions increasingly difficult.

The report also states California could be on a path towards meeting the state’s demand for college educated individuals and solving the its long term difficulties, but instead the state’s education crisis “looms as large as ever.”