Community Commentary: UCs need to accept more in-state students

The University of California and California State University systems are a source of pride for Californians. They are the best public higher education systems in the world and, even with recent tuition hikes, remain one of the best education bargains nationwide.

Recently, however, the UC, which receives annual multibillion-dollar investments from California taxpayers, has begun to forget its primary mission, which is to educate California students.

Since 2009, the number of incoming UC freshmen who are out-of-state or international has nearly doubled. In a recent article, the Los Angeles Times reported that 12.3% of all incoming UC freshmen in 2011 were not Californians. Ironically, UC Berkeley, the flagship institution of the UC system, came in with the highest percentage of non-California students at 29.8%.

The obvious question is: Why would California institutions of higher education, whose mission is to educate California high school graduates, begin to increase their levels of out-of-state students? After all, it is California taxpayers who foot the bill for these institutions.

The answer is disappointing, yet unsurprising: UC institutions receive roughly $22,000 more in tuition and fees from out-of-state students. Unfortunately, many California students wishing to obtain UC acceptance are falling victim to university economics and forced to pursue their education elsewhere.

In reality, reducing California students' access to the very institutions that were created — and paid for — by California taxpayers only hurts our state in the long run.

I am reminded of a couple I met whose son had a GPA over 4.00, did plenty of extracurricular activities and wanted to be an electrical engineer. Denied admission to Berkeley, he went on to attend MIT in Cambridge, Mass., graduated at the top of his class and now has a successful career, makes a good salary and pays income taxes — in Massachusetts.

These are the types of students who are being robbed of a UC education. They are supplanted by out-of-state and international students who will receive their education in California only to use it in their home state or country.

The reasons most cited for this recent admissions trend are budget cuts and lack of state funding, and in fact, last month, Legislative Democrats failed to make higher education a priority and cut the UC system by $500 million for the 2011-12 academic year. However, a closer look shows that state funding was roughly $100 million higher last year than the average over the past five years. In addition, the UC system fails to collect hundreds of millions of dollars each year in student fees. These uncollected fees would easily make up for any revenue loss attributed to the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Perhaps the faculties and administrators should accept a larger share of the burden instead of watching the youth of California pay. One of the biggest cost-drivers is faculty and administrative pay and benefits. For example, while tuition has nearly doubled in the last five years, the average faculty salary has increased every year since 2001 and the average annual compensation package of chancellors exceeds $500,000. It is tough for the UC system to argue that it needs higher out-of-state student fees to survive when it pays its top administrators more than the president of the United States earns.

Times are tough in California. Every program is taking hits. But the UC must stop short-changing California students. Otherwise, California taxpayers, whose money is counted on by the UC to pay for its services, might decide to stop paying the bill.

JIM SILVA is an assemblyman covering the 67th District, which includes Huntington Beach.

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