Waiting lists to be established at most UC campuses, regents say

The University of California will break with tradition and establish waiting lists for freshman admission as it copes with uncertain state funding, officials said Wednesday.

UC has generally not used waiting lists in the past, and not all of its nine undergraduate campuses will do so this spring, administrators said during a UC Board of Regents meeting. But they predicted that most campuses would adopt the lists, at least to a limited extent, while university leaders decide whether to cut freshman enrollment for the fall.

UC reduced enrollment for the current freshman class by about 2,300, or 6%, in response to state budget cuts. Patrick Lenz, the university’s vice president for budget, said he hoped to avoid a reduction of that magnitude this year. “I don’t think it’s going to be as severe as 2,300, but there could be some,” he said.

Lenz estimated that about 1,000 applicants could be placed on waiting lists in order to give the university flexibility to remain within its enrollment targets at a time of tight budgets. Wait-listed students would be told in March, the traditional notification time for fall admission, that their entrance decision would come later in the spring, Lenz said.

For this year’s class, UC offered freshman admission to about 74,000 applicants from across the country; about 34,240 decided to enroll.

Private universities often use waiting lists, but their adoption by UC is a major change, according to Susan Wilbur, UC’s director of undergraduate admissions. Apart from a small pilot project at UC Irvine last year, she said, such lists had not been established by any UC campus in the three decades she has worked there.

“Any time we roll out a new process, it’s a big deal,” Wilbur said. “So it’s significant and we want to do the best job we possibly can do for applicants and their families and at the same time not have over-enrollment.”

Wilbur said it was too early to estimate how big the waiting lists would be or how many campuses would use them. Some campuses may continue to use other tools to control enrollment, such as offering some students admission in winter or spring, rather than fall.

Managing the waiting lists could prove tricky; an applicant might wind up on several UC waiting lists or get accepted by one campus and wait-listed by another, officials said.

During the recession, many private colleges have compiled longer waiting lists than usual, a form of insurance in case too few students enroll. However, applicants have complained that the lists drag out an already stressful college admissions process.

Overall, 100,320 students have applied for freshman admission for the fall to at least one of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses, up 2.4% from last year and a new record. Among them are 81,991 California residents, a 1.6% increase.

Waiting lists would not be compiled for transfer students because UC increased the number of transfer admissions from community colleges last year and expects to do so again. About 33,700 people are trying to transfer to UC for this fall, up 17.5% from last year.

Disclosure of the wait-list plan came as the regents discussed prospects for improved state support. After sharp cuts for the current year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed raising UC’s general revenue funding for next year by $370 million, to about $3 billion.

The regents applauded his proposal, but noted that such funding would still be about $267 million below what it was two years ago. Some board members said they fear that the final state budget will be much less generous to UC.

A recently enacted student fee increase is expected to bring $330 million in annual net revenues, but UC officials said that would be chewed up by higher costs in such areas as health insurance and energy bills.

The regents today are expected, among other items, to review a controversial plan to pay $3.1 million in total incentives to 38 UC medical center executives. Labor unions have denounced the payments, which are to be made if the medical centers show improvements in patient health and finances.

Regents have said that they are bound by employment agreements to make the payments and that the money is key to keeping top talent.