A nonresident cap won’t solve education inequality

UC AFFAIRS: A quick fix to inequity in education access is enticing, but not realistic. We oppose the nonresident cap.

Illustration of hands picking up people from across the globe
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Under a budget proposal currently sitting in the California Legislature, UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego would cap out-of-state or international admissions to no more than 18% in the next three years. The rationale behind this nonresident cap is that seats at UC campuses should be saved for California taxpayers. But a troubling paradox emerges: While capping the number of nonresidents would create 4,500 additional seats for California students, it also would likely decrease the quality of education and opportunity for all UC students, Californians included.

A quick fix to inequity in education access is enticing but not realistic. We oppose the nonresident cap.

First and foremost, the UC system might not be able to afford it. According to Chancellor Carol Christ, the current state allocation for each California student fails to meet the actual cost of instruction, so the UC system relies on the inflated tuition paid by nonresident students. While the budget proposal offers to cover that shortfall, it creates vulnerability to recessions or future budget cuts.

It’s also worth noting that nonresident students are not eligible for California or UC financial aid. A decrease in nonresidents might prompt an increase in everyone’s tuition, pushing a UC degree further out of reach for lower-income admits. The gap filled by nonresidents benefits all students on campus, whether they grew up in the East Bay or were raised an ocean away.

Student culture benefits from a diverse student body composed of people from all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and geographic origins. Instead of feeling pitted against one another based on where they are from, students should be able to celebrate the opportunity to learn with peers from all over the planet.

Finally, UC Berkeley is not turning down in-state students at a higher rate than other American public universities. While UC Berkeley historically has accepted more nonresident students than any other UC campus, the most recent available data shows that it still has a nonresident student population that is considerably smaller than the average at other U.S. public schools.

Those who support the nonresident cap might correctly recognize the inherent class stratification bred on most college campuses. Admitting more nonresidents inherently favors those who can afford out-of-state or international tuition. Non-Californians who leave their home state to pursue a UC degree often gain access to more opportunities and a higher quality of education than others back home, exacerbating inequality through generational wealth and privilege. But this is the product of a larger, all-encompassing issue of unequal distributions of opportunity and education — one that a nonresident cap is unlikely to fix.

Ultimately, everyone should have the ability to receive a quality education, regardless of geographic origin or socioeconomic status. Creating additional barriers to entry for non-Californians works against that ideal.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2021 opinion editor, Sarah Siegel.