College Isn't What It Used to Be — And Never Will Be Again

Tim Goral's picture

Spring. The season when college admission officers grant wishes and dash the dreams of high school seniors throughout the land. Going to college right after high school is a longstanding tradition in this country. However, the road toward those ivy towers of academia is considerably harder to travel for today’s students. The competition is so fierce that what was good enough even a dozen years ago is not any longer.

There’s a staggering amount of blame going around regarding this state of affairs. Kids blame themselves, teachers blame the culture, schools blame the budgets, families blame the schools, colleges blame the politicians. But the truth is that California universities changed the game in a fundamental way when they began heavily recruiting outside the state a few years ago. It’s like adding a dozen more lanes to the pool a week before the big meet and then inviting top swimmers from all over the world to compete.

It’s not that the campuses don’t have enough California applicants, or that the applicants don’t meet admissions criteria. There’s just a shortage of state dollars flowing toward the universities to support those discounted in-state tuition rates the way they used to. University administrators say they have to make up the budget gap somewhere, and that “somewhere” is increasingly coming in the shape of non-California students who meet the admission criteria and also pay three times the tuition.

It’s the new normal in higher education and it’s going on all across this nation as state budgets dwindle in this climate of recession-born fiscal austerity. The pain here in California, though, is especially sharp because the University of California brand has great cachet. Couple that with stepped-up recruitment for those lucrative out-of-state and international students, and it is hardly surprising that the number of non-Californians offered admission to UC campuses for next fall is up for the third time in as many years. Of the 82,850 freshmen who could head off to a UC campus this fall, 22,761 or 27 percent are from somewhere else. In the previous two years, the percentage of non-Californians at the University of California was 18 percent. By contrast in fall 2001, nine out of every 10 UC students were Californians.

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