After four years of grueling work, the moment had arrived.
Maria Contreras, a Hollywood High School senior, huddled with her family around her computer and checked her inbox. There it was.
"Congratulations!" the March 18 email said. "It is our great pleasure to offer you admission to UCLA for the fall of 2016."
Maria screamed. Her brothers yelled. Her mother, a Mexican immigrant whose dream had long been to see one of her three children attend the renowned Westwood campus, began to cry.
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Maria, 17, was one of 66,123 high school seniors in the state admitted to the 10-campus University of California for the fall quarter this year — a 15% boost over last year, according to preliminary UC data released Monday. The increase of 8,488 admission offers to California students is the largest jump since UC started keeping track of this kind of data in 1994.
Offers to underrepresented minorities grew significantly, with an increase for Latinos to 22,704 from 16,608 last year, representing 32% of the total class admitted.
African Americans grew to 3,083 from 2,337, about 4.7% of all admitted freshmen.
The number of offers to Asian Americans and whites also increased over last year. But their share of the total admitted class fell slightly to 25% for whites and 34.3% for Asian Americans.
The UC announcement came just days after a state audit slammed the system for hurting California students, particularly underrepresented minorities, by admitting too many applicants from other states and countries. The audit urged a cap on nonresidents, along with tougher eligibility standards for them.
But admission offers to nonresidents also grew, reaching 32,799 — a nearly 8.9% increase over last year. Their enrollment has been capped at the three most popular campuses — UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego — and their admission rate fell slightly to 53.7% this year. The rate for California students increased to 62.7% of those who applied. Of those admitted, 43% would be the first in their families to attend college.
Overall, UC expanded the number of freshmen offered admission to 98,922, up from 87,759 last year.
The data is preliminary and likely to change, a UC spokeswoman said, and information on transfer students and individual campuses has not yet been released.
"We've intensified our efforts to boost enrollment of Californians at the university, and all indications are that these efforts are working," UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement Monday. "Our commitment to California and California students has never wavered, even through the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. Now, with additional state funding, we are able to bring in even more California students."
Napolitano had denounced the audit findings issued last week as unfair. She said UC tripled the number of nonresidents in the last eight years so that their extra tuition — $728 million during that time — could help compensate for massive budget cuts.
State support fell from $3.2 billion in 2007-08 to $2.2 billion in 2011-12. Since then, the state has slowly restored funding each year to bring UC closer to its pre-recession level. According to the California Department of Finance, the state has pledged about $3.4 billion in annual increments between 2012-13 and 2016-17 and so far has delivered about $2.4 billion.
For the Record
April 5, 4:18 p.m.: A previous version of this article said that the state had cut $1 billion in funding after the 2008 recession but provided more than $3 billion in new money since then.
And thanks to a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature for $25 million in additional state dollars, UC agreed to admit 5,000 more California students for fall 2016.
The rise in local admissions elated students across the state, who celebrated their acceptance at one of the UCs by tweeting out emojis of hearts and tears of joys, posting Facebook photos of themselves dancing and jumping for joy and showering other social media with images of assorted mascots: San Diego's Tritons, Santa Barbara's Gauchos, UCLA's Bruins and the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz.
At Hollywood High, about 40% of the senior class of 320 applied to a UC campus. So far, 14 have told Heather Brown, the school's college and career counselor, that they had been accepted by UCLA and 34 more by UC Riverside. She said she was still compiling data on admissions to other UC campuses.
The campus' 1,500 students are overwhelming low-income, with four-fifths Latino and African American — and a graduation rate of 90%.
Heather Brown said she welcomed the scrutiny on UC's admission practices.
"They should focus on their most local students as a priority, because they're being funded by the taxpayers of California," she said. "Children should not suffer … because adults can't figure out budgets."
Several of Hollywood High's students said their UC acceptances marked the fulfillment of lifelong dreams achieved after years of rigorous work.
Maria, for instance, took six Advanced Placement classes, maintained a 4.1 grade-point average and ranked 10th in her class. She also played varsity soccer, joined the leadership class and even ran the Los Angeles Marathon five times with the Students Run L.A. program.
Her classmate, Melissa Navarro, 18, was offered admission to four UC campuses she applied to — and will choose her dream school, UCLA. She would be the first member of her family to attend college.
"We're trying to be the difference — get an education and get ahead and not let life pass us by," Navarro said of herself and other first-generation college students.
Kimberli Fajardo, 18, another soon-to-be Bruin, credited Heather Brown, her school counselor, and the nonprofit Bresee Foundation for guiding her on how to become a competitive college applicant. She said the foundation worked with her from middle school, offering tutoring, internships and other college-prep opportunities unknown to her immigrant parents from Guatemala.
At Dorsey High, Justin Jerro, 18, also plans to attend UCLA after building a resume boasting a 3.6 GPA, four Advanced Placement classes and volunteer work mentoring neighborhood youths, walking dogs and baby-sitting. He too credited part of his success to an outside program — the UCLA Vice Provost Initiative for Pre-College Scholars — that pushes African Americans like himself and other underrepresented minorities to take the rigorous coursework needed for acceptance to top universities. But he said his own study habits and work ethic also made a difference, including going to the gym more than parties and finding solid study groups.
When he received a call that he had been admitted to UCLA, Jerro said he was in such shock that he couldn't speak, much less yell out.
"I didn't believe it," he said. "But I was proud that my hard work paid off and on the inside, I was screaming."
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