UC proposes its first enrollment cap — 20% — on out-of-state students

Many California students have expressed dismay in recent years about how hard it is to get into a chosen University of California campus — even with stellar grades and extracurricular activities— while so many spots go to those from other countries and out of state.

Last year, lawmakers threatened to hold back $18.5 million if the public university system did not put a cap on students from outside California.

On Monday, UC finally acted, proposing a 20% systemwide limit on nonresident undergraduate enrollment and vowing to continue to give Californians top priority. Nonresident students numbered 34,673 in fall 2016, 16.5% of the system’s 210,170 undergraduates.

The limit would be the first of its kind for the 10-campus public research university. But UC officials hope it will be enough to get state officials to release the funds.

A scathing state audit, which UC President Janet Napolitano blasted as unfair and unwarranted, found that UC was hurting California students by admitting too many out-of-state applicants.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said the proposed policy balanced the needs of California students with the benefits those outside students bring — diverse perspectives as well as millions in additional tuition revenue, which added up to nearly $550 million in 2016-17. Those dollars have helped UC increase its enrollment of California students to historical highs this year, Klein said, even as state support per UC student has fallen to less than half of what it was two decades ago.

"The policy is very clear: Nonresident students will be in addition to and not in place of California residents," Klein said. “But it accepts the reality that we need this money to help fund California undergraduates.…We can't rely on the state to supply the undergraduate funding we need to maintain the academic quality for California students.”

Faculty members are not enthusiastic, said UC Academic Senate Chairman James Chalfant. They oppose an “arbitrary quota,” he said, that could force UC to turn away the best and the brightest and forgo additional needed dollars. The group has presented an alternative that would impose enrollment limits only on campuses at which the expansion of nonresident students hurts Californians and only after UC is given enough funding to maintain its quality.

“We do understand why this is happening,” Chalfant said. “But we’re disappointed because we think the conversation should be about how those [nonresident] revenues benefit all students, rather than some fixed number.”

But Shelly Tan, a Los Angeles area parent, said qualified California students should have the advantage. Her own child was turned down by her top three UC choices two years ago, despite SAT scores and a grade point average above the 90th percentile. Her daughter ended up at a fourth UC campus.

“Given the economic climate and competition, California parents have to start being selfish,” Tan said. “We can’t stay all liberal and let everyone in.”

Under the proposal, which the UC Board of Regents will consider next week, the system’s three most popular campuses would be allowed to keep but not increase their proportions of nonresident undergraduates — 24.4% at UC Berkeley, 22.9% at UC San Diego and 22.8% at UCLA, Klein said.

The proportion of nonresident students at the other campuses ranges from 18.9% at UC Irvine to less than 1% at UC Merced. Those campuses each would be allowed to grow up to 20% so long as the systemwide limit was not exceeded, Klein said.

The policy would be reviewed at every five years at minimum, taking into account state support, Klein said.

It was not clear whether the proposal, if approved by regents, would satisfy state officials and trigger the release of the $18.5 million. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) proposed a bill last year that would have capped nonresident enrollment at current numbers, but the UC proposal allows for some continued growth.

“It’s a mixed bag,” McCarty said of the UC proposal. “Finally, after all of these years, UC is on the verge of setting a firm nonresident policy that will help us prioritize California kids. But we were hoping the cap would be at today’s numbers. It’s close, but it falls a little short.”

The state’s declining support led UC to quadruple its nonresident undergraduate population between 2007 and 2016. Even so, the UC's percentage of nonresident students is lower than the average 27.9% for the 62 members of the elite Assn. of American Universities.

The population of California resident students increased by 10% during that time. UC hopes to enroll an additional 2,500 Californians this fall as part of an agreement with the state to add 10,000 more resident students by 2018.

Klein said the extra dollars from nonresidents — who pay about $27,000 more in annual tuition than Californians — have helped campuses recruit and retain faculty, add courses to lower overall class sizes, and purchase library materials, instructional equipment and technology. The nonresident revenue also has boosted financial aid for Californians by an average $700 per student, she said.

Competition for seats has been especially fierce at UCLA, which became the first university in the nation to receive more than 100,000 freshman applications for fall 2017. The Westwood campus tripled its nonresident undergraduates while reducing its California students by 4% between 2008 and 2015. UCLA added more than 1,000 Californians last fall, however.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said the nonresident dollars provided a lifeline for the campus after state support for undergraduate education dropped significantly after the 2008 recession. Thanks to the extra money, UCLA was able to add courses, which has helped students shorten the time needed to graduate to less than four years.

“Financially it made a huge difference,” Block said. “We could not have managed these graduation rates without having the additional resources.”

Block and others stressed, however, that nonresident students are not simply cash cows. Danny Siegel, UCLA’s undergraduate student body president and a Long Beach native, said his friendship with a Chinese student helped him break out of his cultural comfort zone and got him to attend Lunar New Year events on campus this year. He said he also appreciates U.S. freedoms more after hearing his friend’s stories about China’s censorship of social media.

“I’ve lived in an L.A. bubble my whole life so it’s great to hear perspectives from different places,” Siegel said.

His international friend, Jack Guo, said he cherishes the superior research and entrepreneurial opportunities in California — and hopes he has helped his UCLA classmates better understand China. “We don’t have to worry about being shot in the street,” he said he told students who were critical of China’s authoritarian government in a political science class.

Shane White, a UCLA School of Dentistry professor, recalled one international student who “catalyzed” a classroom discussion on pain control when she said her African town had no access to anesthesia during dental work. “It was a jaw-dropper for American kids — something that would never occur to them,” White said.

Susan Cochran, a professor of epidemiology and statistics who heads UCLA’s Academic Senate, said the “narrowness of being a Californian” was evident in her students’ overwhelming shock that Donald Trump won the presidency.

“California is culturally so different than the rest of the country and our children growing up here think this is what the country is like,” she said. “The diversity of students from other states and countries really opens up the eyes for Californians.”

The proposal’s biggest boosters will likely be California families like the Uriartes of South Pasadena. Katherine Uriarte, the daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to attend college, aced six Advanced Placement exams, got high ACT scores and earned a slew of awards, including the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award. But she was rejected by UCLA and UC Berkeley for fall 2015 admission.

Uriarte is more than happy at Columbia University, where she is a sophomore majoring in environmental biology. But she said California students should be favored by UC because their parents pay taxes to support the university.

“I do like the idea of bringing in outside students because of the perspectives they bring,” Uriarte said. “But it kind of sucks to miss out because you can’t give UC the money they want.”

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe

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UPDATES:

8:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to move up a reference to the most recent count of UC nonresident students.

6:30 p.m.: This article, first written as news of the proposal broke, has been rewritten with additional background.

1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Assemblyman Kevin McCarty.

This article was originally published at 11:15 a.m.

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