This university was made for you and me: why AB 1711 is a bad idea

By Connie Kwong Source: Public Broadcasting

Last November, the Regents of the University of California approved a budget plan to enroll an additional 10,000 California undergraduates over the next three years, including 5,000 freshman and transfer students in 2016-17. This proposal emerged in light of the fact that the number of newly enrolled UC students who are California residents dropped by 1,600 in fall 2014. Meanwhile, the UC system has increasingly relied on out-of-state and international students who pay higher tuition to supplement increasing instruction and administrative costs. Consequently, prospective Californian students are worried about being displaced by nonresidents.

To address those worries, California State Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and Jose Medina introduced Assembly Bill 1711 last Tuesday. Under AB 1711, the state would withhold funding from the UC unless it caps the amount of out-of-state and international undergraduates at the current level of 15.5 percent system-wide, require the UC to publish an annual report on undergraduate nonresident tuition and revenue, and mandate that at least half of the money generated from nonresidents’ supplemental fees be used to support more university spots for Californians.

While capping the number of nonresident students sounds like an appealingly simple solution, it hardly functions as a sustainable long-term plan. Let’s consider how the Regents’ proposal and AB 1711 both coincide with the fact that the UC received over 200,000 applications for fall 2016 enrollment and is expected to receive even more applications in future years. It’s apparent that the UC will continue to become more selective despite increased enrollment, so the 2014 decrease in Californian resident enrollment is a potentially misleading statistic. Let’s also reiterate that the tuition freeze decided last May is only a two-year freeze, meaning that it’s set to expire in 2017. If the memory of widespread student distaste and protests in response to the Regents’ proposed tuition hikes back in 2014 means anything, it’s that UC students are constantly squeezed from all directions as a result of the lack of long-term financial planning.

AB 1711’s mandate that the UC publish an annual report about nonresident student tuition and revenue is certainly a relevant addition that would help inform the UC system’s future plans. But frankly, Congressmen McCarty and Medina’s bill scores points with resident Californians because of its politicized connotation of “us” (Californians) versus “them” (non-Californians). Its efforts are misplaced and will ultimately do little to address the bigger problem at hand: maintaining an affordable and high-caliber university education for all students. That’s because it’s overlooks the complex implications of diversity in the UC student population.

The fact that a record number of applicants hope to call a UC campus school this fall demonstrates trends that both the Regents and California state legislature would be wrong to neglect when designing UC budgets. As more high school students become college-eligible, the UC student population will continue to diversify racially and socioeconomically. Whites and Asians are currently the two largest ethnic groups of the UC student population, but they are also historically the most financially well off. Meanwhile, Latinos make up the largest share of public school students in the state. In the fall 2015 application cycle, Latinos increased their share of Californian UC freshman applications to 34.1 percent from 32.7 percent last year. African Americans also increased their application from 5.9 percent to 6.1 percent. Additionally, of the UC’s 2013 freshman class, 41 percent were first-generation college students and 30 percent came from homes in which English was not the first language. 42 percent of UC undergraduates come from households with annual incomes of $50,000 or less.

These statistics place the onus on the UC and the state legislature not only to continue serving students coming from all backgrounds, but plan ahead for it. Left unchecked, the problem of college affordability will intensify as more students of color and underrepresented communities apply and are accepted to the UC. Because many of these communities are socioeconomically disadvantaged relative to Whites and Asians, they will require more financial aid. And in evaluating revenue sources, policymakers need to consider how not all California residents accepted to UCs ultimately choose to attend a UC. Many choose to go out-of-state or to in-state private universities. Given the higher costs associated with these decisions, we have reason to suspect that this is a higher-income demographic that would otherwise be paying higher-than-average net costs (the actual cost of attendance after accounting for grants and scholarships) to attend a UC. While these students still wouldn’t pay as much as nonresidents do, rising tuition costs do indeed affect higher-income California residents, because they will see their out-of-pocket expenditures rise and could consequently choose to attend other schools that may offer comparable or better financial aid packages. This could trigger a continual cycle of revenue loss. In fact, the UC’s 2013 Annual Accountability Report finds that while the net cost of attendance for students from families earning less than $100,000 annually has remained relatively stable since the 2004-05 school year, it has fluctuated for those earning above that.

All of this should prompt the state legislature to seriously consider what the Regents have long recognized: that nonresident students are beneficial to the UC. They provide crucial financial support and help subsidize costs for resident students of all backgrounds. In addition to the base tuition of $13,400, nonresident UC students pay the Nonresident Supplemental Tuition of $24,708, totaling $38,108 (2015-16 school year figures). The UC’s 2013-14 budget summary points out that in addition to State General Fund support, UC operations depend on other unrestricted fund sources known as “UC General Funds.” In 2012-13, UC General Funds were estimated to be $848 million, and Nonresident Supplemental Tuition made up the biggest share of this at $408 million.

Still, the UC’s 2013 accountability report finds that compared to other members of the American Association of Universities, the UC has a substantially lower proportion of out-of-state residents. While nonresidents account for only 15.5 percent of the UC population, they account for nearly 30 percent at other AAU public universities. In fact, the UC has consistently prioritized admission to California residents. It promises that state residents who meet the minimum requirements but are not admitted to any UC campuses to which they apply are offered spots at another campus with available space, provided that they ranked in the top 9 percent of California high school students or their graduating class. Additionally, nonresident applicants must meet higher criteria to be considered for admission, such as having a minimum 3.4 high school GPA compared to 3.0 for Californians, or a minimum college GPA of 2.8 compared to 2.4 for Californians for transfer. This prompts skepticism that nonresidents will substantially displace resident students.

As college degrees become increasingly necessary for Millennials to thrive in today’s job market, the UC system must continue its responsibility to provide an affordable and excellent education to students as originally declared in the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education. While designing the ideal long-term execution plan and securing sustainable funding are no easy tasks that respectively warrant further discussion, maintaining student diversity should be a priority. Prospective resident students’ concerns about being displaced by nonresidents are understandable, but they should not cause the state legislature and UC Regents to continue butting heads on UC policy. They should not dictate discourse by obscuring more salient issues affecting college accessibility, such as race and socioeconomic background. If the UC explicitly limits the number of nonresident students, it ultimately risks compromising the diversity of its aggregate student population. The reality is that nonresidents improve the educational experience of all students by providing necessary funding, and more importantly, contributing to campus diversity with their unique backgrounds and perspectives. They prepare UC students to live and work in a world that is decreasingly defined by borders and increasingly defined by cross-cultural communication and cooperation. In other words, they help grow and sustain the global reach of the world’s premier public university system.