UC System Accused of Lowering Standards for Nonresident Admission

California state auditor Elaine Howle on Tuesday released a scathing report on the University of California (UC) that alleges the system unfairly favors foreign and out-of-state undergraduates over California residents. The audit accuses UC of admitting less qualified out-of-state students over in-state students, thereby taking seats away from them at UC’s Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego campuses.

Since 2010, UC has worked to recruit more nonresident students to make up for budget shortfalls, and the administration has been very transparent about the need for increased revenue; last year, these students each paid about $37,000 in tuition and fees compared to $12,240 for undergraduates who met residency requirements. This tactic proved controversial among parents, students, and politicians, who believed California students were being denied entry to their top-choice schools. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown said that UC Berkeley is no longer a place where “normal” students can get in.

The auditor’s report shows that between academic years 2010-2011 and 2014-2015, out-of-state enrollment increased by 82 percent (18,000 students) while in-state enrollment decreased by 1 percent (2,200 students). It also found that between 2005-2006 and 2014-2015, UC campuses denied roughly 4,300 California students admission, students who had met or exceeded the median scores of nonresident undergraduates who did gain admission.

Additionally, the audit shows that only 11 percent of out-of-state students admitted to UC campuses during the last academic year were from underrepresented minority groups.

UC immediately disputed the allegations with its own report, “Straight Talk on Hot-Button Issues: UC Admissions, Finances, and Transparency.” The report is meant to counter allegations in the state audit that “consistently failed to consider key facts and data.”

“This argument, [that enrolling nonresident students disadvantages California students], appears to be based on the mistaken belief that UC campuses have a set number of available spaces, and if students from outside California take those spaces, fewer spaces remain for California residents,” the report states. “In fact, enrollment of California students depends on two factors: UC’s unbroken commitment to enroll California students consistent with [its] Master Plan and the availability of state dollars to fund additional resident enrollment growth.”

The report states that UC is poised to enroll an additional 5,000 California undergraduates this year, with 43 percent slated for seats at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego — which currently have the highest nonresident enrollments of the UC campuses. The system’s ability to do this is the result of increased state funding.

In a biting letter to Howle on March 8, UC President Janet Napolitano said the audit drew conclusions unsupported by fact and undermined the university’s work to provide access to education.

“The draft audit understates and undermines the efforts of thousands of UC faculty and staff who have sustained the university’s reputation, accessibility, and affordability during a period when state funding was cut by about one third,” Napolitano wrote. “The university is always open to constructive recommendations and desires to work with you as you prepare the final report. As it currently stands, however, the draft audit is neither accurate nor helpful and thus requires major revision.”

Napolitano also pointed out that UC’s percentage of out-of-state undergraduates is much lower than other state universities. Purdue University and the Universities of Oregon, Iowa, and Michigan each enroll more than 40 percent nonresident students. Penn State, Iowa State, Indiana University, and Georgia Tech each enroll more than 30 percent. The UC system, however, enrolls 15.5 percent out-of-state undergraduates, with no more than 25 percent at a single UC campus.