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Budget Fears at Cal State, UC Disputed

Times Staff Writer

Despite complaints from the state’s two public university systems that budget cuts would force them to curb enrollment, a government report released Friday states that neither system would necessarily have to turn away eligible students next year.

In fact, the report by the independent legislative analyst’s office says that both the University of California and California State University systems in recent years appear to have admitted students from a broader pool of applicants than is called for under state guidelines.

The guidelines, set out in the state’s master plan for higher education, state that the UC campuses are to select their students from the top 12.5% of the state’s high school graduates and Cal State from the top third.

The report suggests both systems have overshot their targets.

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Part of the reason is that students -- known as “special admits” -- are being admitted who do not meet the universities’ minimum academic standards. These students include athletes and students who are artistically gifted, home-schooled or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Strictly limiting special admits would give UC and Cal State more room for eligible students, even without extra money from the Legislature, the report states.

No more than 2% of students at each university system should be special admits, the report said. UC policies currently allow as many as 6% of its students to gain entry as special admits, a spokeswoman said, though far fewer typically are admitted in this manner.

“When the resources are becoming more restricted, you have to make some choices about who’s being admitted,” said Steve D. Boilard, director of the higher education unit at the legislative analyst’s office.

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The analyst’s report also suggests that admission standards for both university systems are too loose, given the percentage of California students they are intended to serve.

The report recommends that the Legislature more clearly define how the universities should pick the state’s top high school graduates.

Spokeswomen for UC and Cal State said administrators disagreed with the legislative analyst’s principal conclusions.

“We’re doing an awful lot already to tighten up our policies,” CSU spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler said.

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“We’re studying this but we just don’t believe that we can accept all eligible students next year because we don’t have the funding.”

UC spokeswoman Lavonne Luquis said the report’s recommendation that legislators help define the university’s eligibility standards, now set by UC’s regents and faculty members, was “a major concern.”

“We believe it’s reasonable for the state to set broad goals in this area,” she said. “But we see it as a problem for the state to step in and set specific goals.”

The Legislature warned the universities last summer that it did not intend to provide any money for increased enrollment this fall, despite a statewide boom in the number of college-age students. More recently, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed cutting freshman enrollment for the fall term at each system by 10%.

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In response, university officials complained that enrollment limits could force them to step back from their obligation to provide broad access under the state’s master plan.

The number of admissions is an economic issue for the state because the fees paid by university students do not cover the cost of their educations. Both the UC and Cal State systems are heavily subsidized.

The analysis is expected to fuel a broader debate over admissions at the state’s public universities, particularly UC. It arrives just as lawmakers begin to grapple with the governor’s budget proposals, including those on higher education.

The timing is also sensitive because university officials are awaiting a state analysis, due in May, of how closely the UC and Cal State systems’ admissions are following the 43-year-old master plan.

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In addition, it follows the release last fall of a report by UC Regents’ Chairman John J. Moores, contending that UC Berkeley was admitting too many under-qualified students.

“I hope the university will revisit its eligibility requirements,” Moores said Friday. “There’s no question that kids are being admitted to UC who would more properly be admitted to community colleges.”


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