Janet Napolitano’s plan to enroll an additional 10,000 students at the University of California would expand opportunities for thousands of California residents, but shrink the prospects of those at the school already.
For the past few years, the number of applications the University of California receives annually has steadily increased. To meet this growing demand, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in May an increase of 5,000 in-state students across the UC system by the 2016-2017 academic year, accompanied by an additional, one-time allocation of $25 million. Last week, UC President Janet Napolitano proposed adding another 5,000 students with a total suggested increase of 10,000 new in-state freshmen and transfer students by the 2018 academic year.
The University of California as a public university is meant to best fulfill the needs of the state population. To do this, it should only enroll as many students as it can without diminishing the quality of education each student receives.
Brown’s plan of increasing the University’s population by 5,000 students represents the best compromise between maintaining the UC’s quality of education, but also increasing access to deserving, qualified students. While Napolitano’s plan is admirable, it’s in the University’s best interest to wait and see the consequences of a larger student body before pursuing more ambitious increases.
The current student population already faces difficulty on campus – waiting in long lines for classes, textbooks and dining halls, and facing crowds once students get their feet through the door. Professors run the risk of engaging their students less as classes get larger and course lists remain relatively stagnant. With these conditions in mind, it’s difficult to tell whether UC campuses can maintain the quality of their resources with approximately 500 extra students per campus, much less the 10,000 Napolitano is proposing.
The UC needs to focus on creating better conditions for the students it has, not on how it can spread its resources thinner for the students it could potentially have.
The state has not promised any funding for this additional increase in students, and the logistics of physically accommodating that many new students have not yet been planned.
The $25 million promised from the state is the equivalent of $5,000 per the 5,000 students Brown proposed in May, which is only about half the estimated $9,244 marginal cost of each student currently attending the UC.
Essentially, the state’s extra funding doesn’t even cover the cost of the 5,000 new students already slated. With no promise of increasing the UC’s yearly budget to a sustainable level and no other funding perks in sight, it is completely unrealistic to think that the UC can muster up enough funding to accommodate an additional 10,000 students in the next three years.
When contacted, the University declined to say how it would pay for the additional 10,000 students. Instead, it referred to a budget document that suggested an additional $25 million – which would still be insufficient – could be generated by cutting nonresident financial aid and raising revenue from nonresident supplemental tuition in addition to Brown’s allocation.
If the UC decides to pursue these options, it will be increasing its population at the expense of out-of-state students. While the University’s mission is to serve the Californians whose taxes help fund the system, giving the burden to nonresidents who were not protected in Brown’s two-year tuition freeze is unfair. Increasing nonresident tuition, which already nears the price of many private colleges, could drive away many interested applicants who enrich the University’s population.
Despite this, many will point out that it’s the University’s duty to educate as many qualified California natives as eligible. While this is a noble idea, it isn’t rooted in reality.
The most recent eligibility study conducted in 2007 showed that 13.4 percent of California high school students were eligible to attend the UC. There has not been a comprehensive study conducted since.
The UC is not and will not be able to accept all those who qualify, especially if it intends to fund resources necessary for these students through out-of-state and international admissions.
Even if the University could accommodate all eligible students, it should only increase its population gradually as to not inadvertently overestimate its resources and overextend itself.
The mission of the UC is not to educate everyone in California – it is to create a highly competitive university system that produces innovative research. The UC should not cave to pressures from the public, but rather remember its responsibilities. Without additional funding, Napolitano’s proposed increase will undoubtedly compromise the University’s mission and impact the quality of education and research it is able to deliver.
UC, please focus on the students you already have.