California's state colleges and universities are laying plans to ask students about their sexual orientation next year on application or enrollment forms, becoming the largest group of schools in the country to do so. The move has raised the hopes of gay activists for recognition but the concerns of others about privacy. The questions, which students could answer voluntarily, would be posed because of a little-known state law aimed at gauging the size of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations on the campuses. The law encourages UC, Cal State and community colleges to explore whether they are offering enough services, such as counseling, for those students. "It would be useful to know if we are underserving the population," said Jesse Bernal, the UC system's interim diversity coordinator. In addition, giving students the opportunity to answer such questions, he added, "sends a positive message of inclusiveness to LGBT students and creates an environment that is inclusive and welcoming of diverse populations." Experts said it is rare for a college to ask about sexual identity on an application or registration form, although a growing number of schools are studying the possibility. Last fall, Elmhurst College, a private school in Illinois, reportedly became the first in the nation to ask applicants about that part of their lives; the school reports that 85% have volunteered answers, with 3% reporting to be homosexual, bisexual or transgender.