State auditor, university, discuss UC nonresident enrollment at legislative hearing

Kevin Sabo/Courtesy

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As debates continue over the mission and financing of a public university, a California State Legislature committee convened the morning of April 6 to hear presentations from the state auditor and UC representatives on a report regarding university out-of-state enrollment.

At the hearing, held by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, state auditor Elaine Howle reiterated findings from an audit published March 29 that UC admissions standards for nonresident students have become too low, allowing nonresident enrollment to increase at a faster pace than that of in-state students. Howle said at the hearing that the university is not doing enough to reduce internal costs to justify increasing nonresident enrollment for supplemental tuition.

According to Howle, 16,000 nonresident admits in the past three years have had lower scores than the average in-state admit.

“The resident door stayed really narrow even though there was a lot of people pushing against it … the demand for them was not met,” said assembly member Catharine Baker at the hearing. “If you don’t change it, (the state has) to be part of the solution.”

Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy, said the supplemental tuition that comes from admitting nonresidents is beneficial to resident students.

“That money is what we use to help support all of the California students that we admit,” Brady said.

During the hearing, Howle noted the modification of admission requirements in 2011 that now allow nonresident applicants to “compare favorably” with California applicants, rather than ensure nonresident scores fall in the upper half of in-state students test scores.

But Stephen Handel, UC associate vice president of undergraduate admissions, said at the hearing that applicants are evaluated on 14 factors — including areas beyond just numerical test scores — that make the admissions process more holistic.

Howle added that higher nonresident enrollment tends to decrease the diversity of underrepresented minorities.

Howle recommended at the hearing that the university set a 5 percent cap on nonresident enrollment, revise the admission standards for nonresidents, and improve internal efficiency by cutting costs.  

The priority for UC has been, yes, make UC as accessible as possible, cut where we can, but don’t cut to the point where it harms the quality of the educational experience,” said UC spokesperson Steve Montiel, noting that the university has gone through $660 million in cost cutting.

The state has provided $25 million in funding for enrollment growth, and this year, the university has accepted 8,000 more students — not including transfer students — than last year, Montiel said.

“The lesson here is simple: When the state supports enrollment growth, the UC will respond,” Handel said at the hearing.

Montiel said that admissions standards favor Californians. He noted that there is a lower GPA requirement for in-state students and added that the university aims to provide admission to the top 12.5 percent of California high school students.

The audit’s findings state that while many nonresidents are admitted to their UC campus of choice, many residents are referred to a less competitive campus, such as UC Merced, and therefore decide not to enroll in the UC system.

“Nobody guarantees anybody in life that they’ll get into the first choice school they want to get into,” Brady said.

UC Student Association President Kevin Sabo said that the problem comes from both sides. The university needs to maximize revenue internally, he said, while the state should provide funding on a per-student model.

Assemblymember and chair of the committee Freddie Rodriguez asked that the university provide a status report on implementing the recommendations in four months.

Contact Alex Fang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.