The number of eligible California high school graduates entering the state's public four-year universities has plunged in the last five years, as budget-strapped institutions increasingly adopt practices to reduce enrollment, a new study has found.
The report, released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that these declines have occurred even as demand has risen: The number of high school graduates in California reached an all-time high of 405,000 in 2010; the number of seniors who completed college admission requirements increased dramatically, as did the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams.
The share of California high school graduates eligible for and applying to UC increased to 16.4% in 2009, from 12.4% in 1994; eligible Cal State applicants increased to 33% in 2008-09, from 19% in 1997.
But state funding for higher education has sharply declined — $1.6 billion less than 10 years ago — and California now spends more on corrections than public universities, the report found. As a result, schools have raised tuition, slashed course offerings, capped enrollment and become more selective.
California's public higher education systems were intended to be available to all high school graduates, said Hans Johnson, a fellow at the San Francisco-based institute and the report's author, adding that "we've clearly lost that."
"These enrollment restrictions end up in practice denying a place at the table," he said. "It's hard to see any improvement unless there is increased state funding."
Against this backdrop, Cal State and UC released budget scenarios this week that offer little relief. State support was reduced by $750 million for each system this fiscal year, and each could lose $200 million more if a tax measure on the November ballot fails. Cal State trustees meeting in Long Beach this week learned that even in the best-case scenario, the system will have to find ways to close a $400-million budget gap.
The system already announced that it will freeze most enrollment for spring 2013 at all 23 campuses and waitlist applicants for the following fall term. Trustees are considering whether to make more dramatic enrollment cuts to save costs.
"The budget is really driving that issue," said Eric Forbes, Cal State's assistant vice chancellor of student academic support.
Trustees, grappling with budget issues and public outrage over executive compensation, agreed Wednesday to freeze salaries of incoming campus presidents but allow individual campus nonprofit foundations to boost pay up to 10%.
Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander said his campus, which typically admits 9,500 new students each fall, will admit about 6,800 for the fall of 2012. The school received about 78,000 applications, up 10% from the previous year. It will be forced to cut about 1,800 classes and will ration course loads to a maximum of 13 credit units.
"It's a horror story for California to be abandoning its commitment to public education at a time when demand is at its highest," Alexander said in an interview.
While applications to UC's 10 campuses are at an all-time high, budget constraints have kept UC from increasing enrollment for California students, said spokeswoman Dianne Klein.
"The PPIC is right to sound the alarm about the inevitable consequences of California's disinvestment in its public university system," Klein said. "It's an urgent message that we ignore at our peril."
The report found that tuition and fee increases have also affected enrollment rates. Tuition at Cal State will increase 9% this fall, with annual rates for undergraduates reaching $5,970, not including campus-based fees that average more than $1,000.
UC officials are warning that students may face a 6% tuition increase next school year if the state does not provide additional funding. Such a hike would amount to an extra $732 annually for in-state undergraduates, bringing their tuition to $12,924, not including other campus fees, room and board.
A second round of tuition increases could come next year if voters do not approve the governor's proposed tax measure.
Community colleges, which are open to all comers, haven't technically reduced admissions, the report noted, but they have rationed enrollment by increasing class size and reducing programs and course offerings.
"This report shows the self-inflicted damage to California's economy by our failure to properly fund higher education," said chancellor Jack Scott. "We have two choices: Reverse this trend by restoring access and affordability to higher education, or suffer the economic consequences of failing to educate the workforce that this state's economy demands."
Scott noted that the pressures forcing high school graduates to increasingly seek college opportunities elsewhere also apply to transfer students from community colleges. Transfers from California community colleges to out-of-state institutions increased by 36% in three years, to 18,964 in 2010-11, from 13,909 in 2007-08.
Times staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this report.