New law aiming to restrict UC campuses from giving enrollment preference to out-of-state students misses the mark

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: California lawmakers should not waste its time passing bills that ask UC compliance with guidelines it is are already following.

Kelly Baird/Staff

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a toothless bill Saturday that aims to prohibit UC campuses from giving enrollment preference to out-of-state students, but amounts to little more than political grandstanding.

Assembly Bill 1674 demands that the UC system ensure the academic qualifications of out-of-state students admitted are generally higher than those of in-state students — demands that are both unenforceable and based on a misinterpretation of the realities of UC’s admissions.

Assemblymember Catharine Baker (R-Dublin), a co-author of the bill, said to The Daily Californian that the state legislature doesn’t have the authority to directly change UC policies. The UC is an independent entity, and the legislature can only use bills to wield indirect influence on the system. Baker told the Daily Cal she hopes the UC will “take this bill to heart.”

But if the legislature intends to make room for more in-state students, it’s clear this bill misses the mark. Instead, it functions as a way to score easy political points by putting pressure on the UC system.

The tussle over whether out-of-state students are crowding out California residents, and the confusing, amorphous authority the state has to limit their enrollment, is a tired one.

In a scathing March 2016 audit, the state auditor alleged UC admission standards for nonresident admission dropped, making it harder for in-state students to gain admission. The UC admitted nearly 16,000 nonresidents over the last three years with academic scores below the median of admitted residents. The audit concludes the university should tap alternative methods to cut costs before relying on the tuition dollars of out-of-state students.

In response, UC president Janet Napolitano blasted the audit, saying in a statement that it drew conclusions that are “supported neither by the data nor by sound analysis.” There is no disagreement over the mission of the UC system — that it was built to serve state residents. But it’s been well-understood that state funding has dwindled, and the UC has had no choice but to enroll more out-of-state students — who pay three times the amount of tuition as in-state students do.

Nonetheless, citing the audit, lawmakers threatened to hold $18.5 million from the budget if the system didn’t implement a cap on the number of out of state students. Then, in May 2017, the university approved a 20 percent cap on nonresident enrollment, assuaging many of the concerns the bill posits.

Yet, the legislature continues to waste its time passing bills that direct the UC to do something it is already committed to.

If state lawmakers hope to support the mission of the UC in successfully educating generations of California residents, it must work to divert funding to higher education. Instead, it continues to pressure the UC to stretch each dollar to accommodate ballooning classes at the expense of a quality education.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.