Looking for a UC alternative? Colleges outside California would love to have you

College representatives at a recruitment fair
College representatives hold a recruitment fair Tuesday in Pasadena.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Can’t get into the University of California or California State University?

Never fear — many colleges outside California would love to have you. More than 50 of them came to Pasadena on Tuesday to deliver their best elevator pitches to more than 120 local high school counselors, college admissions consultants and community organizations.

With a mother lode of more than 430,000 high school graduates annually, California is the nation’s richest source of prospective college students. Yet the UC and Cal State systems are overcrowded, turning away thousands of students from their desired campuses each year while colleges in other states have been hit by declining birth rates and slumping enrollments.

Nationally, college enrollments dipped below 18 million for fall 2019 for the first time in a decade — a drop of 2 million from the peak in 2011, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.


But that downward trend is not expected in California for several years, according to demographers. So colleges outside the state are increasingly flocking here to bolster their enrollment, offering less expensive in-state tuition, attractive financial aid and other lures. The Pasadena event was one stop on an annual roadshow throughout the state organized by the Regional Admission Counselors of California to help its 117 out-of-state college and university members get their names and virtues known.

Founded by eight campuses 30 years ago, membership has particularly grown in the last five years and ranges from top-rated national universities to small and specialized campuses, said Sarah Blank, an organization official who also recruits for a college in Ireland.

“We’re promoting the idea that it’s possible to go out of state to schools potentially less expensive than here,” Blank said. “We know there are challenges students are facing with state systems here — impacted classes, longer graduation times, accessibility getting in. So why not look elsewhere?”

On Tuesday, campus representatives lined up at the University Club in Pasadena to give their two-minute sales pitches and afterward offered the high school counselors one-on-one conversations, brochures and swag at tables festooned with their school names and colors.

Hawai’i Pacific University got the biggest applause of the day with the announcement that it planned this fall to cut its $28,000 annual tuition for Californians to match UC’s in-state tuition and fees of $12,570. The private university offers popular programs in business, nursing and marine biology in Honolulu — “the happiest city in America” and the fourth safest, according to Michael Taylor, the campus’ recruiter, who wore a Hawaiian shirt and greeted the crowd with a booming “Aloooha!”

The University of Houston also offers in-state tuition to California students who rank in the top 25% of their class and hit minimum SAT scores of 1260. That would make the annual cost of attendance with room and board about $22,000 — significantly lower than UC’s total with room and board of about $36,000. The Houston representative touted the university’s top research enterprise, broad diversity and its 800 California students, the largest out-of-state contingent.


“It’s an opportunity to get a UC education at a Cal State price,” said Cassidy Plair, the university’s Southern California regional admissions advisor.

Some campus representatives put a positive spin on potential deal-breakers for Californians — bitterly cold winters, for instance. Nazareth College in New York promoted its underground campus tunnels, while Emerson College in Boston said its tiny campus of 12 buildings on two blocks would make any walk outside mercifully short. The University of Illinois representative admitted to “austere coldness” but pitched its “gregarious, friendly people” and a quick plane ride back to the West Coast.

Others played on perceived desires of California students. Stefanie Miller of Indiana University put in a plug for the high number of ethnic restaurants per capita in the “quintessential college town” of Bloomington. Dickinson College in Pennsylvania has long valued access and equity by eliminating SAT and ACT scores as admission requirements, said representative Phil Moreno. And the University of Oklahoma is a “big football school who can beat UCLA,” said Amanda Marsh, the campus California recruiter.

Gary Bednorz of the University of New Mexico gave the most creative spiel with a rhyming rap that reinvented the campus UNM abbreviation with virtues: University of Numerous Majors, University Near Mountains — and University Not close to Mom.

Later, several high school counselors said they appreciated learning about the varied opportunities — but getting their students to leave California isn’t easy.

“They’re fearful,” said Ana Romero, a counselor with Maywood Center for Enriched Studies, an L.A. Unified magnet school. “They think it’s going to be very costly and they’re going to be alone.”


Adriana Ostos, another Maywood counselor, said her Latino culture had not strongly encouraged children to leave their homes and families for college. “Most of our students want to go to UC and Cal State because that’s what they know,” she said.

But as the California public university systems become more selective, especially in such high-demand fields as engineering and nursing, counselors say their students are increasingly open to other opportunities.

Ana Delgado-Chavez, a counselor with the Critical Design and Gaming School on the Augustus F. Hawkins High School campus in South Los Angeles, took copious notes during the college presentations. She noted that the University of Houston was diverse and near NASA, while the University of Oklahoma offered 18 engineering majors.

“They have space for our kids to go and finish in four years, which will save money,” she said. “And leaving Los Angeles will be a major life-changing experience for them.”