Everyone knows that one of the core missions — maybe the core mission — of the University of California is to educate California students. That's why it receives billions of state dollars each year, direct from the pockets of taxpayers.
So naturally it is worrisome to learn that UC is boosting its enrollment of out-of-state students. According to an article by Larry Gordon in Tuesday's Times, more than 18% of the freshmen admitted to UC campuses for next year come from other states or countries, up from 14% last year and 11.6% in 2009. The reason is obvious: Out-of-state students pay $23,000 more in tuition each year than Californians. And the university, slammed again and again by reductions in state funding, desperately needs the money.
Not all of those out-of-staters will actually attend; in the end, the university says it expects about 10% or less of the new freshman class to be from elsewhere. But even that is higher than in the past, and each spot that goes to someone from far away could, theoretically, have gone to a local. This is an institution, after all, that rejects nearly a third of all applicants. William G. Tierney, director of USC's Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, says accepting more out-of-state students threatens to diminish opportunities for Californians.
Despite that, UC is doing the right thing.
Increasing the proportion of students from outside California is, frankly, the best of a bunch of bad choices. UC is a revered institution, one of America's great public university systems, and as it struggles to absorb hundreds of millions of dollars in new budget cuts, it must choose among unappealing reductions in programs and services that could severely damage its quality and reputation. Decisions that drive off its most talented faculty members, or push tuition levels far beyond where they've already been pushed, or close entire campuses, or reduce class offerings much further could prove irreversible.
Increasing the percentage of students from out of state, by contrast, is reversible. When times get better (assuming they do get better), the university can shift the proportion back without having damaged the quality of the institution. The fact is that the UC system does not accept nearly as many out-of-state students as some other public universities do. Michigan, Virginia and Colorado, for instance, all enroll more than 30% of their undergraduates from out of state.
The University of California, with its world-class research capabilities, its top-tier academic offerings and its many economic benefits for the state, remains one of California's most valuable assets. It is essential that we keep it that way.