The University of California received a record number of applications from an increasingly diverse pool of candidates, with more than a third of them Latinos for the first time, officials announced Monday.
Overall, 193,873 students sought entrance to at least one of UC's nine undergraduate campuses for fall 2015, a 5.8% increase over the number of applications for fall 2014, according to preliminary data. The number of freshman applications —158,146 — represented a 6.5% increase.
Applications from California high school seniors rose by 3.2% over last year, while the number of Latino, African American and transfer students seeking admission also inched up.
The UC data follow a report last month from the California State University system showing a record 790,000 applications received by the 23-campus system for fall 2015, up 30,000 from the previous year.
First-time freshman applications to Cal State increased to 552,642 from 526,798, while transfer applications increased to 238,258 from 234,659.
At UC, Latinos, who make up the largest group of public school students in the state, increased their share of California freshman applications to 34.1% from 32.7% last year. The share of applications from African Americans rose to 6.1% from 5.9%.
"The data show that the University of California continues to draw unprecedented numbers of top-notch students eager to learn and contribute," UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
UC Merced, the newest campus in the system, counted the largest increase in applications — 14.1% — while those to UC Riverside rose 9.8%. Applications to UC Irvine rose 7.7% and those to UCLA 6.5%.
The Westwood campus received a record 112,000 freshman and transfer applications for the fall, the most of any other four-year university in the nation, campus officials said.
Applications for admission to UCLA increased at almost every level, including those from California, out-of-state and international students. The number of applications for African Americans and Latinos rose 13% and 5.6%, respectively. White applicants grew 5.4% and Asian Americans 4.8%.
UCLA has come under scrutiny for its low numbers of black and Latino undergraduates since the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which prohibits public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in employment and education decisions.
But UC officials said they've made progress in recruiting strong candidates from economically disadvantaged schools, where minority students and those who are the first in their family to attend college are strongly represented.
UC's application figures represent 11 consecutive years of growth, fueled in part by an increased recognition of the necessity of a college degree and more high school seniors obtaining the academic credentials to qualify for UC, said spokeswoman Dianne Klein.
In addition, many students view a UC education as a bargain in comparison with other leading public and private research institutions, Klein said.
The UC application period closed on Nov. 30, a few weeks after Napolitano announced controversial plans to boost current undergraduate tuition of $12,192 by as much as 5% each year for the next five years unless the state increases funding.
Part of the additional revenues would be used to increase enrollment of California undergraduates by 5,000 over the next five years.
Demand has increased even as projections show the number of California high school graduates declining.
Nearly 103,000 California high school seniors applied to UC for the fall, and all nine undergraduate campuses received more applications overall from California residents than the previous year, according to the data.
Meanwhile, the rate of increase in out-of-state applications declined. About 30,517 high school seniors from other states applied for fall, a 16.7% jump from last year , while out-of-state transfers increased by 14%. By comparison, the increase in out-of-state applications from fall 2013 to fall 2014 was about 19%.
UC has sought to increase nonresident students — who pay about triple the tuition of residents — for the revenue they bring. But the strategy has come under increasing scrutiny from critics who say it shortchanges California students.
UC leaders have indicated willingness to study the limits of nonresident enrollment. But Klein said there is nothing to indicate the controversy has swayed out-of-state applications in either direction.
"We're in a global economy where everyone learns from others of different backgrounds," Klein said. "We shouldn't all be the same. But we should be cognizant of the fact that we're a California institution and we're going to preserve that identity."
In other data, UC reported that California freshman and transfer students on average applied to four campuses (overall transfer applications were up 2.6% from last fall).
Applications from Californians of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent grew while those from American Indian and whites fell slightly.
At UCLA, about 38% of applicants were from low-income families and more than 41% said they would be the first in their families to graduate from a four-year college.
The numbers reflect expanded outreach to under-served communities, including rural Central Valley cities and 20 high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District that typically send few graduates to UC, said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA's associate vice chancellor for enrollment management.
"We are extremely pleased that our applicant pool is stronger and more diverse," said Copeland-Morgan.
Most freshmen will be notified of admissions decisions by April 1 with transfer notifications a few weeks later. Last fall, UC admitted 58.4% of freshmen applicants and 71% of transfers overall. But the rates vary greatly by campus, with UC Berkeley admitting 17.3% of applicants and UCLA 18.2%.