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Legislators Want The University Of California To Enroll More In-State Students. It's Been Slow Going

Aerial view of the UCLA campus, which features brick buildings surrounded by trees.
The UCLA campus
(Courtesy UCLA
Alan Nyiri)
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In March 2016, a California state audit detailed how in response to budget cuts, the prestigious University of California system’s overreliance on non-California students “undermined its commitment to resident students.”

“To add insult to injury, we weren't accepting as many Californians and we were accepting more and more international and out of state students,” said California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, who is chair of the assembly’s budget subcommittee No. 2 on education finance.

The UC 2030 plan, rolled out last summer — and after six years of little movement — is, in part, a response to that outcry. The first school year under the plan was a slow one.

Key elements of the plan

Here’s what the UC 2030 plan seeks to do:

  • Enroll more students
  • Cut non-resident (international and out-of-state) admission
  • Reduce time to graduation
  • Expand offerings at off-campus centers
  • Offer more online classes
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The outcome of those efforts in the next seven years, UC predicts, will lead to 23,000 more students at the system’s 10 campuses, but that could grow by 10,000 more if Sacramento gives UC more funding.

A teenage girl and her mother sit on a sidewalk in front of a chalk drawing of the UCLA logo
Kati Haberstock (right) and her daughter Bibi Richardson, who is a freshman at UCLA this year.
(Courtesy Kati Haberstock)

“Our goal all along has been to grow in a way that serves the State of California and meets its future education and workforce needs, while being responsive to each of the communities we call home,” UC President Michael Drake told UC Regents last year after the plan’s roll out.

As CalMatters detailed in 2021, students themselves are opposed to decreasing representation of out-of-state students, and compensating for the higher tuition paid by nonresidents requires a lot of stressful math.

Parents, though, say they like what they’re seeing.

“[The plan is] a positive thing because it shows that California is eternally trying to improve the outcomes for the kids here in this state,” said Kati Haberstock, whose daughter is a freshman at UCLA this year.

Where things stand

The University of California’s founders in the 19th century were so committed to the public university as a resident benefit that they waived tuition for Californians. By the early 21st century a lot had changed.

UC’s non-resident enrollment is actually slightly higher now than it was in 2016 when the state audit criticized UC’s practices. According to UC data, 25% of the university’s undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the fall of 2022 were not California residents. That’s three percentage points more than in the fall of 2016.

Our goal all along has been to grow in a way that serves the State of California and meets its future education and workforce needs, while being responsive to each of the communities we call home.
— Michael Drake, president, University of California
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The proportion of non-resident students at the system’s Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego campuses is significantly higher. UC is cutting non-resident enrollment to 18%, compelled to do so by state funding requirements.

“For the entering class of 2023, UCLA plans to enroll more than 300 new California undergraduates than we did in 2022,” said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vasquez via email.

Since last fall, he said, UCLA has followed the UC 2030 goal of reducing nonresident student enrollment while increasing resident enrollment. By fall, Vasquez said, the percentage of nonresident enrollment will fall below 21%, “the lowest it has been in the past nine years.”

Non-residents made up 32% of UCLA student enrollment in fall 2022. By contrast, they made up only 4% of UC Merced.

The UC 2030 plan is also pushing campuses to build facilities off campus to accommodate more students. Last fall UCLA announced the purchase of a former university campus 30 miles south on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

UC San Diego’s also spent a lot of money to create an off campus location but its goal for now is to serve non-student populations. Last May UCSD opened Park & Market, a 66,000 square foot building in downtown San Diego, 15 miles south of the seaside campus. The university organizes events, open to the public, with the San Diego Unified School District, the Black Chamber of Commerce, and non profit groups.

“The events and programs fulfill the goals of the UC 2030 plan by focusing on underserved communities and workforce development in our region,” said via email Edward Abeyta, the associate dean of UC San Diego’s division of extended studies.

More online courses, more faculty of color

The shift to online learning during the pandemic left a powerful mark on higher education: campuses can carry out more online teaching and students can learn online. The UC 2030 plan is embracing that lesson, with the idea that more options mean more students can graduate on time.

“UC Irvine plans to increase its percentage of online courses to 20% during the academic year and 50% during summer session by the end of the decade,” said UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich via email.

Pink and yellow background with description of university summer school discount
UC Irvine is giving a discount on summer school this year.
(Screenshot from UCI)

The Orange County campus is sweetening the deal by bringing back a summer school discount called “Pay for Only 8.” The program caps summer school tuition at 8 units even if a student takes a full-time load of 12 or more units. UCI wants students to get more classes under their belts and graduate faster.

UCI is also beginning to hire groups of faculty as part of its 2021 UCI Black Thriving Initiative.

There’s been growing pressure from outside and inside UC to make its faculty more racially and ethnically diverse. Doing so is seen as one way to address the lower graduation rates among UC’s Black and Latino students and other groups, another UC 2030 goal.

“This is a historic moment really for UC and for UCLA,” said Sylvia Hurtado, a professor of education at UCLA, and special assistant to the UCLA chancellor on Latinx issues.

She said the pandemic gave rise to concerns that the university fell short of fully supporting students who were the first in their families to go to college — often Black, Latino, and Native American students. The university administration came through with funding for more support, including the hiring of more faculty of color. The funding that’s been identified is enough to hire 15 full-time faculty but that could increase, Hurtado said, as university deans are persuaded to put up half the funding for some of those positions.

“It's probably one of the most significant diversification efforts at UCLA in years,” Hurtado said.

Tying in-state enrollment to funding

The 2016 California audit recommended the state legislature intervene to increase in-state student enrollment. Intervention, the audit said, should be carried out by making a portion of UC’s state funding conditional on the university raising in-state enrollment.

The state constitution allows the legislature to enact laws governing the public California State University and California Community College systems. While a public system, the UC is not subject to legislative intervention. In the last decade the state legislature has found its own way to convince UC’s administration to carry out proposed policy changes.

[High non-resident enrollment is] hard to explain to all of my constituents, all the California high school students that work so hard to try to get into, especially the most competitive campuses of Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego.
— Al Muratsuchi, Torrance-area State Assemblymember

“The power of the purse,” is that way, said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. “We provide the University of California billions of dollars every year in the annual budget process.”

He said he likes the UC 2030 plan, in particular the plan to enroll more California residents. He said he’d like to see UC make the more ambitious goal of growing university enrollment by 33,000 students.

But many UC campuses remain tough to get admitted to and out-of-state and international students still make up a large proportion of the student body.

“That's hard to explain to all of my constituents, all the California high school students that work so hard to try to get into, especially the most competitive campuses of Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego,” said Torrance-area Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi.

He and other state legislators say they’ll provide UC the funding to reach the higher enrollment goal.

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